One thing is needed.


I wish I could write a deep and meaningful post right now about something I’m discovering anew about holy week in the quiet and still moments. But the thing is, I haven’t had a whole lot of quiet and still moments today. And I need to write this in five minutes, so excuse the typos if they happen. The spirit started moving, so I had to get my fingers going.

As I say that I’ve been busy and not quiet or still today, there’s a small surge of pride that swells up in the back of my mind, because busyness is a virtue of the modern world. I’ve just been so busy. It’s good. I’m staying busy.

But I have to tell that little voice the truth. Being busy is not inherently virtuous. Being busy does not give me any more value than someone who is not busy – or myself on less busy days. Being busy does not give me more purpose or satisfaction. It just gives me more to do in the time I have.

And more thoughts to swirl around in my brain besides thinking about holy week. I haven’t been all that holy this week.

Which isn’t the point, I know. The point of holy week is to reflect on the only person who can actually be called holy and the way he suffered and died and rose again so that unholy people could be in relationship with him.

I know this.

But without the moments of quiet today, I’ve been forgetting.

On days like this, there’s a verse that comes unbidden to my mind. It’s from the story of Mary and Martha, and it’s straight outta the mouth of Jesus. I would google the reference, but I ain’t got time for that.

Just trust me. Or google it yourself.

“Martha, you are worried about many things. But only one thing is needed.”

Mrrrgh. My to-do list awaits, and I get some sick sense of self-worth from crossing things off on it. MANY OF THOSE THINGS ARE FOR YOU, JESUS.

“Ashley, you are worried about many things. But only one thing is needed.”

In the three minutes I have left before I need to run out the door, I think of the time I need to spend sitting at Jesus feet, like Mary did. (I’m getting those names right, aren’t I? If I’m not, just flip them. It’s the right story, anyway.)

One thing is needed. Sitting at Jesus’s feet. That’s where I need to start and end.

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On the year of OPEN


Let it be known that today, finally, after at least a year and a half of reading tiny chunks at a time on the bus, I finished reading Crime and Punishment.

*wild applause*

It didn’t take so long because I hated it or anything. I actually really loved it and would read it again. But I’m going to need some time set aside on the beach or something to get it done again. That is no small tome. It took so long because I kept setting it aside to read shorter, easier books or books that would be due at the library soon. And my commute got shorter in the middle, so I only got to read 3-4 pages per day. Needing closure in all things, it drove me bonkers that I didn’t finish it for so freaking long. But today. Today I finished.

It was actually perfect Valentine’s Day fare, too, if you know how it ends. You can take that either sarcastically or literally. Doesn’t matter much to me.

Speaking of Valentine’s Day, which I celebrated by wearing my once-a-year giant cubic zirconium heart earrings (Oddly enough, only one person in my office seemed to notice. So maybe people thought I was wearing them not ironically. This probably says something about my daily style choices.)…

You probably remember Jenna, my friend who graciously informed me that I had a mouse living in my glove compartment. Well, I had dinner with her sometime last winter, I think pre-mouse scenario, and she told me about one of her co-workers who had declared 2016 THE YEAR OF OPEN. She was open, she said, to dating anyone. There would be openness and no pre-judgment.

I’m not really sure how that worked out for her, since when I mentioned it to Jenna recently, she couldn’t even remember which co-worker had said it Maybe she went back on her resolution. We’ll never know for sure. Oh, the mysteries of life!

But I, on the other hand, thought that was a brilliant idea. Sure, people say you need to make S.M.A.R.T. goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-Bound), and “OPEN” is just about as vague as you can get, but it’s a lot easier to remember at key points in time and gives one a frame of mind that can inform the specific situations.

So I adopted it. And I told my friend Emma, and she said she thought that was a great idea.

Of course, I think my situation is a little different than the co-worker, because there is no line of men requesting dates. I’m not filtering through the options because I haven’t needed to. So, realizing that this is the truth of the situation, I decided “OPEN” meant just being ready for new things and considering what I might not otherwise consider. Or at least stepping as bravely as possibly into the unknown with as much positivity and hope as one can have.

And hope does not put us to shame.

It might not have been a direct result of that decision, but last year I made big changes and chose some things I might not otherwise have chosen. I met people I would not have met before. I went places I never expected to be. I learned new things about myself I might not have wanted to know before (sometimes these things are painful and stinky).

And when 2016 ended I asked Emma what that meant for 2017, “Does that mean 2017 is the year of closed?”

I was joking.

I’m currently reading Shonda Rimes’ book Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun, and Be Your Own Person, which is not my typical cup of tea, but I’m trying to expand my horizons by reading more books by people of color and by taking recommendations from people. (THIS FITS BOTH!) Basic premise of the year of yes is that she never said yes to anything, so she started saying yes to the things that scared her, just for a year.

And she realized at the end of that year that she couldn’t go back. Saying yes had given her a new mindset, totally transformed her life. so she just kept going.

I wouldn’t say THE YEAR OF OPEN turned me 180. I’ve always liked to try new things, but it put an intentionality into my choices and gave me a perspective of challenging myself to be braver and have fewer preconceived notions about how something will be.

So, no, 2017 isn’t the year of closed.

OPEN will live on.

(Also, I’d like to acknowledge the elephant in the room that I haven’t blogged in a very long time. I’ve been busy being open.)

Snow road rage


It was Sunday morning, and it had been snowing all night. When I drove home from my sister’s the evening before, it had been snowing for hours and the roads were already hazardous.

So you can understand why an unbridled rage came over me as I approached the highway on Sunday morning, in Minnesota where it snows in the winter, and the highway hadn’t been plowed.

Not at all.

(I say “not at all” and mean that there was no evidence of any plowing. The road roughly resembled a plate of mashed potatoes. I have no proof other than my word.)

So here I am, in my lightweight little fishtailer of a car, trying to get to church, cursing myself for moving more than five minutes away, cursing MnDOT for not plowing (they have 1 JOB in the winter. 1 JOB), and cursing the universe that I got up earlier than normal, left my apartment earlier than normal, and I still wasn’t going to make it to the choir warm-up. I was driving safely, with the caution that would get me there alive. But none of it would pay off in the ways I wanted it to, the way I’m planned it.

I do not kid you with the words “unbridled rage.” If you know me very well, you can probably picture that. If you do not, you may not be able to imagine the growling.

I tried to calm down. I brought Jesus into it. “Jesus, be a snowplow,” I said, as another truck with 4-Wheel Drive zoomed past me without any caution at all. Jesus was not a snowplow in that moment.

Oh, yes, another object of my rage: people who drive like there is no snow and tail you for going 40 because if you go any faster (and believe me, I’ve tried), you will spin out and die.

There was a lot of rage. It wasn’t really a great start for a Sunday morning. Headed to worship with these wonderful sentiments on my lips, “STAY BACK. WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU. WHERE ARE THE DARN PLOWS?”

Winter is a good time for me to remember how little is in my control. That I can’t make the traffic behave. I can’t get the highways plowed. Sometimes, even allowing way more than enough time… isn’t actually enough. I can’t control other people’s driving (OH THAT I COULD). I can’t control the temperatures or when the wind blows and how cold it is when it does blow. I can’t make my car heat up any faster than it does. I cannot stop it from snowing when I have to drive somewhere.

Will winter teach me to be laid back? Will she show me the insanity of my ways, always thinking that I can fix things?

Possibly.

Most likely not.

I think I might just try to drive in snow less.

Deep gratitude and bad diagnoses


I never thought I’d hear myself say, “thank you, God, for my bad catalytic converter!” And actually mean it. With my whole heart.

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t groan when the “check engine” light comes on in their car. “Oh, no, baby, you’re fine,” we all croon, hoping it was just a fluke. Did I brake too fast? It must be an error. There’s nothing wrong. PLEASE. NOTHING WRONG.

I was starting to feel like if my mechanic had punch cards I’d be my way to a free repair. But that’s not really the way car repairs work.

No, even though my mechanic is honest and wonderful, whenever I go in for a repair I always leave trying to catch my breath. We had to do it. It’s good. That’s only like what I make in 20 hours of work this time. It could have been worse. Just breathe.

I was prepared to do that song and dance again today. He’d told me that the light was telling us something was up with the catalytic system (do I sound like I know what I’m talking about? I don’t), and if we were lucky, it’d be the oxygen sensor, maybe a couple hundred to replace. We hope it’s that because the catalytic converter would be way more buckeroos.

I decided to go with the best-case scenario. It would be the cheap thing that would be wrong, and it would not feel cheap but would be worth it to not have to replace the catalytic converter.

So I went in today on my afternoon off, ready to sit while they replaced my oxygen sensor. I lose a couple hours and a couple hundred dollars. Breathe. It could be worse.

But then he came out and said, “Ashley, I have bad news.”

I could see myself opening a window and pouring out my hard-earned dollars onto the streets below. “Here, who wants some? It’s just money. Have a handful. My car is making me go broke anyway.”

God works in mysterious ways. Oh wait, no, let’s rephrase that. God does freaking weird things that often look like a bad situation but totally flips them on their head so it’s the best. Says the same thing but sounds less dreamy. This is weird stuff.

“I’m not going to recommend we fix it now. You might have a year before it goes out completely, and you’ll know when that happens.”

Wait, so… no repairs?

“And I’m not going to charge you for a full hour. That was only twenty minutes.”

He basically told me that my car is worth more to me than anyone else, so I should drive it until it dies and not put big bucks into it at this point.

So, sort of harrowing news, but it means I have margin. I can save. I can plan! I can look forward to buying a car sort of on my own timetable instead of pouring money into this one… and still having to buy one in a year or two.

In the oddest circumstances, a reason for deep gratitude. I’ve had a few moments like that in the past month, where just a little bit got shaved off a total or ended up being right what I could spend. And there have been moments of extreme peace where I knew I didn’t need to buy that thing that really seemed like I might need it… or I didn’t need it right then.

Here’s the testimony: God takes care of me. Here’s just another example in a line-up of many. I have a bad catalytic converter. And an honest mechanic. That’s a reason for joy.

On overflowing cups.


cup

Last year on this day, I wrote about Shakespeare’s sonnet 73, because every time I see a yellow leaf I think of it.

That time of year thou mayst in me behold

when yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang

upon those boughs which shake against the cold…

It’s so poignant. I wrote about how fall is a time of refining for me, how I find that often when I get to this time of year, I find God shaking away pretense and false security in my life til I have a few leaves left and am ready to settle into a winter of waiting to see what will grow from it, what the fruit of the lesson is.

And I think that’s still true, that I find my spiritual life reflected in the season.

It was about 34 degrees in Minneapolis this morning when I set out to go for a run. I ran down the street closest to the Mississippi, hoping to find a trail that gave me a view. The trail I found turned to dirt at one point, but it gave me the skyline and river view I was hoping for, so I stuck to it. I ran across a little footbridge to Nicollet Island, past the high school and inn there, and back to the mainland before routing back to the Farmers’ Market, where I bought rhubarb and peppers and zucchini and came home with a single dollar in my pocket. Later I will make bread and cake and eat dinner with friends.

I walked back to my little apartment. And I thought to myself, this is my life. How can it be?

I find myself living pieces of my dream life these days. And along with sonnet 73, Psalm 23 keeps coming into my mind.

The Lord is my Shepherd.

I have all that I need.

He make me lie down in green pastures.

He leads me beside still waters.

He restores my soul.

Not that the yellow leaves aren’t still shaking in the cold, not that I don’t worry and feel scarcity creeping up on me and stealing my joy, but Psalm 23 has been the balm to my heart in those moments. This good Shepherd is mine, and his promises are peace and restoration.

Which reminds me that there will be moments of breaking and cracking — because otherwise, there is no need to restore. It’s not about a charmed life but about having a refuge.

Even though I walk through the valley

of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil, for you are with me.

Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me, in the presence of my enemies.

You anoint my head with oil.

Up until this point, I find myself nodding along, feeling the comfort in the promise of the presence of a good Shepherd. There’s guidance, no fear with God. He is my safety. 

And then we get to this part, and something pipes up in my heart that says this is as true as it gets.

My cup overflows.

Runs over. Spills out. The cup cannot contain what is being poured into it. And I find that when I look back, the cup has always been overflowing – even in dark valleys I’ve had the light of the presence of God, often shown in the faithful friendship of his people.

The cup overflowing isn’t the prosperity gospel, a hefty paycheck, a well-stocked kitchen, a bump-free ride, every desire satisfied. It’s the certainty that

Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.

It’s the promise of the presence of a good God, which means more than the presence of any single person or thing.

And I will dwell in the house of God forever.

*If you want the best musical rendition of Psalm 23, here it is.

No watch weekend. 


I didn’t wear a watch this weekend. I brought one. I planned to. Usually when I’m traveling you can’t get it off me. It’s a security blanket, an assurance that I’ll be able to check the time without having my phone. Not that I won’t have that too. 

I didn’t wear my watch this weekend, and it seemed to contribute to the feeling of displacement. Yes, we were in Texas, yes, it was hot. But mostly, I wasn’t ever really sure what time it was. 

I would say, “I never really realized how much of my life was completely governed by what time it was, what time I had to be somewhere, what time I had to leave,” but that wouldn’t be true. Because the only time I don’t know what time it is would be when I’m sleeping. And even then, I will know what time it is when I wake up. 

In my 350 square foot apartment (a generous measuring), there are four clocks, not counting the one on the microwave. I own two watches, so that brings the number of timepieces up to 7. Then there’s my phone, which works as a backup timekeeper. 

I didn’t know what time it was when on Friday we walked around the square in the center of Granbury in the 90+ degree shelter. We dragged our tired bodies around, which had been rudely awakened at 4 that morning and dragged from one end of the country to the other. Texas was having a cool spell, but our Minnesota-acclimated bodies were having a hard time believing it. 

I knew what time it was while I waited in our hotel room for Grandma to return from the rehearsal dinner. She would have gotten ready for bed with a flashlight rather than wake me with a real lamp, so I kept the lights on and kept my eyes open with sitcoms. 

And I kept track of time until we left for the bridesmaids’ luncheon the next day. My watch left off because it didn’t match my outfit, I sat and talked with the photographer for an hour I suppose, not realizing how long it was taking for the single waiter to bring all of the food. 

I wasn’t sure what time it was when I sank into my hotel bed for an afternoon nap, Grandma napping on the other bed. But I know she slept a much shorter time than I did, jumping up after a short rest of the eyes to get ready for the wedding and clear out of the bathroom so I could get ready when I woke up. 

I didn’t know what time it was when the wedding guests carried chairs over from the ceremony area by the lake to the reception room. But I do know that we sweated even though the chairs were light. And we kept sweating while we ate our burgers and cake and listened to speeches and cried during the father-daughter dance. 

It felt much later than 9:30pm when grandma and I flopped into our beds, but I do know that it’s true. 

The clock in the lobby of the hotel was wrought iron and had a pattern on the back of the clock that made it impossible to tell where the hands were from a distance, so I didn’t know what time it was this morning when some of us found our way around two breakfast area tables to eat waffles shaped like Texas and oatmeal and sip our coffee, which is the family heritage beverage, and catch up a bit more, rehash the previous night’s  events. 

I didn’t know what time it was when we left the church of my dad’s college friends and followed them to their house. When 3:30 rolled around, my mom looked at her watch in surprise, “we’d better leave if we’re going to get you to the airport on time. ” I didn’t know it was so late. 

It didn’t matter much, because events like these don’t depend on the time as much as they depend on everyone being in the right place at the same time. And I could just be a sheep, following the herd to the next stop. 

Now that it’s just me again I wish I’d put my watch on today. I can’t follow the heads in the airport, because, unlike my family, they don’t know where I’m going or where I’ve been or when I need to get there. 

I mean, my family doesn’t always know that. None of us actually brought our invitation to the wedding, so we had to combine our shared memory for some of the details. But there’s a lot more trust there than the person in front of me in the security line. 

I’ll be glad to strap my watch back on tomorrow morning, but it was nice to spend a couple days without its governance. 

The best life and how moving taught me sort of a little bit of what that looks like


 

If there’s anything I’ve learned from moving out of my parent’s house and into a place all my own, it’s that I’m both not capable of doing big things alone and that I’m not living my best life when I try.

We could put that on a nice graphic with a rose behind it, and it would be inspirational.

In fact, let’s do.

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So I’m not a graphic designer. You still might like it if it showed up in your Facebook newsfeed. Because it’s cheesy and because it’s true.

I was feeling pretty good about my independence level in the whole I’M MOVING OUT saga. I started searching for apartments months before I was ready to commit. I figured out where I wanted to be and went to apartment showings while my parents were out of the country. Heck, I signed my lease while they were out of the country! In-de-pen-dent adult! Hurrah! Wave your flag!

I hadn’t imagined I’d be doing all of those big things alone, but I felt pretty good about it. Sure, my friend Emma was the one who tipped me off to the property I ended up going with, but I’d done everything else by myself.

I started packing, by myself. And kept packing by myself. And going through things by myself. My parents would stop in the doorway of my room and ask how it was going. I’d tell them how many bags of things I was taking to Goodwill and that I’d gotten rid of most of my class notes from high school.

I spent hours and hours and days and weeks cleaning out my 22 years of residence at my parents’ house and would finish each segment feeling exhausted of the process but also triumphant at the progress.

My friends from church downsized about a month ago and offered me a chance to see if I wanted any of their furniture. So I went, excited about the possibility of a nice armchair.

“Oh, I was going through my crystal and found out I had duplicates. Do you want them?”

I accepted and promised her I’d serve chips and guacamole out of them.

A couple weeks later, she gave my mom four bags of things for me at the prayer meeting. Pyrex with lids, pillows, mugs, a vegetable steamer, a plate, bowls., more

I returned the Pyrex I’d bought for myself, checked a few things off my list.

I went through the list of things I still needed to buy with my mom. “Toaster, microwave, hand mixer, knives… oh knives. I don’t know how to buy knives. I want good knives.”

The next day, as I sorted through things, she appeared in my doorway. “Do you want this bread knife? and one of the steak knives?” (steak knives that we use more as paring knives because they work like a dream.

“Yes, but that’s the good bread knife.”

“Is it? Well, you can have it. We have two.”

I’d forgotten about flatware. I moaned about needing flatware. She thought about it for a bit. “Do you want to take one of our sets of flatware? We don’t really need two if it’s just your dad and me.”

And so there were forks and knives and spoons.

A friend from church had a garage sale. I went and bought five plates for $.75 and a DVD for $.25. “What else do you need?” she asked, thinking about the other things she might be clearing out. Somehow, I hadn’t planned on so many other people caring what I needed.

My parents and I had planned to take a few trips back and forth from home to my apartment with both cars. We made small trips during the week, taking over a couple things at at time. I grew weary of all the unlocking and relocking of the doors, the carrying of boxes just heavy enough to be uncomfortable and awkward.

The day of the biggest part of the move my friend texted, “Do you need help moving? Do you want to use my van?” This is no ordinary van. This van took my desk, my bed, my mattress, and a bookshelf, along with a bean bag chair and another box of things. We made one trip between the three vehicles. I hadn’t thought to ask.

I am learning to ask.

After everything was moved in and I’d been living here for a couple days, I tried to put up some shelves. It was simple. All you had to do was find a stud. And if you can’t find a stud, you use an anchor and it’s all good.

I knocked on that wall up and down and left to right, all the while conscious that I had neighbors whom I hadn’t met. Where was that stud? Are there any studs? I decided to just use the anchor. I’ve done this before. No big deal. The neighbors will be okay with it, right? They won’t hate me for making some noise. I just moved in.

Hoping I wouldn’t have anyone stomping to my door, I tried to screw the anchor into the drywall and got 75 percent in. It wouldn’t go any farther. Or maybe I wasn’t using all my strength. Either way, I had no choice but to unscrew the anchor. But when I got it out, the screwdriver wouldn’t come out of the anchor. No matter what I tried. I was tired of trying and feeling remarkably insecure about trying to hang shelves alone when I heard my neighbor make a noise that sounded slightly possibly irritated next door, right after I hammered.

So I invited my parents over for dinner, mentioning the shelves. They had to bring a chair for all of us to be able to sit at my table, but they did. How humbling to be cooking dinner for my parents in the apartment that would not have been had it not been for them, for so many reasons, and not just because I wanted their company but because I needed their help.

And affirmation.

I could go on, because there are so many people reflected in my apartment: in artwork, in pictures, in something they gave me because they knew I could use it, in something they took out of their own drawer and handed to me (MOM). In the things they helped carry in or helped me find. I say this all knowing there’s a risk that it’ll sound sappy rather than sincere.

If anything, this whole move is just a concrete picture of most things in life. We get where we are on the shoulders of people who offer themselves and what they have. Our best life is when we support each other. And every time I look around my apartment, I remember that.

 

 

Geese, sticky notes, and prejudice


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When I want to write about something but find myself 1) at work, 2) about to go to sleep, 3) unable to type because I’m at zumba class, I typically text myself (yes, there’s a whole conversation in my phone from me, to me), make a note in my phone (the more normal way of texting yourself), or write gibberish on a sticky note.

This week, I opted for gibberish on the sticky note.

I stuck it to the back of a galley I was reading, and as I read on the bus I thought about what someone would think if they found this sticky note on the ground, whether they’d ever be able to make sense of it. Does anyone else’s brain work in a way that can connect these disparate things and ideas? I’d like to think that someone could figure out that it’s not a shopping list or notes from a business call but rather a thought process captured in snippets.

Here’s hoping that sticky note captured your attention. I’ll explain.

There’s a park reserve near my house and a main thoroughfare that I drive not far from that. The geese that make their home in the park reserve like to cross this road and hang out by the office buildings on the other side. Yet another thing I don’t understand about this wildlife. I wonder if before the buildings were built up 20 years ago this was their main turf. Or if they have corporate aspirations.

I drive this road most every day, and when I see the geese, they’re usually on the other side of the road. Which suits me. Because I HATE geese. Active hatred. For a number of reasons.

  1. When I was in elementary school, every fall they would desecrate the pavement by the playground by treating it as their bathroom. As a result, we couldn’t play four-square (or really, even walk on the pavement without getting feces on our shoes). I still resent that.
  2. As many others will relate to, I had a bad experience with them while running. I tried to understand, because their babies were young, and I am much bigger than the average goose. I might seem a threat. But was it really necessary to hiss and flap at me while I cowered on the side of the path, terrified and only able to emit a small, weak scream? (It was an involuntary response.)
  3. They look mean. They walk around ready to attack and have black, menacing heads that hide their eyes. I can’t trust any animal I can’t look in the eyes.

Anyway, so earlier this week when I drove by the part of this road where the geese like to hang, a couple of them were trying to cross the road (TO GET TO THE PARK RESERVE ON THE OTHER SIDE! maybe this explains the chicken). As I approached in my Civic, they were trying to come into the lane I was in.

Finally, I thought. I have the power now.

Geese can honk, but my car can honk louder. So instead of letting them cross, or running them over out of vengeance, I honked at them as I approached. They backed up without hissing or flapping because they know what’s good for them, and I went on my merry way. I found immense satisfaction in this, but the revenge kind, not the I-done-good kind.

My satisfaction kind of stopped me short as I wondered whether that was a heartless thing to do. Should I have let them cross? Should I have stopped? I might have startled a car behind me into rear-ending me if I had. No, it was probably all right. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so gleeful about startling the geese and making them stay out of my lane though.

Or maybe it didn’t matter at all. But I thought some more about geese and whether or not anyone likes geese. Does anyone like them? What’s the point of them? That girl in Fly Away Home must have liked them to help them migrate. I never did understand that movie, though. Why geese?

I don’t know much about geese. Why did God make geese? I know they’re kind of mean, and seem to think they own the trails by my house as well as the road. They have babies and are super duper protective of them. I’ve never really heard about any good experiences with them. But I wonder if this is a snapshot of how prejudice works, that one takes a snapshot of a group one knows little to nothing about other than a few negative experiences and generalizes them to a whole group.

I don’t know. Maybe not.

It’s likely that I’m overthinking the whole interaction. My glee over honking just gave me pause. Maybe it just gives me some structure for thinking about how I judge people I encounter and whether or not my impressions were earned or given without reason.

Or maybe this is just about geese.

Showing up


I sat on my barstool at the kitchen counter this morning, finishing up my coffee, eggs, and toast and staring out the window. My Bible was open on my left, and I’d read the chapter for the day. Titus something. But I couldn’t tell you what it was about for sure by this point in the day.

It’s a good discipline, to read your Bible every morning. Perhaps it would be more effective if you were the type of person who could remember what you read as well and think about it throughout the day. I do believe that is the intent for those of us who do morning devotions, or at any time of day. I do not remember what I read.

But I do remember what I saw out the window. It was 6:10, usually the time that I would be leaving the house if it was Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, but it was Friday. And I drive to work on Fridays, so I was planning to leave about ten minutes later than normal. I lead such an exciting and varied life.

I stared down the curving street, the one that I know points south because when as a young girl I told my sister I was running away to Grandma’s house and needed directions, she told me Grandma lived in Texas, which was south. And she pointed down the street, telling me that’s the direction I should head in. There was a woman there, running south this morning – maybe to my grandma’s house. She wasn’t the Lulu Lemon model or the poster child for Lifetime. She was just running. Not a sprinter’s clip nor a plodding pace. Fighting inertia, keeping on.

Good for you, I thought, because I am not a runner in the least.

I looked back at my Bible as if trying to remember if there was something more for me there. Thank you, God, for today, for my job and my…

See the time on the clock, glance out the window again, eat another bite of eggs. Strategize about how late I can leave and still get there on time.

Right, I was praying. Thank you for today. Just thank you, really. I can’t remember what else you say when you’re prayingHelp me to show your love to the people I work with today. There, that was something coherent and applicable.

Out the window, the woman is still going down the street. She turns and is soon out of my sight. She wasn’t that jogger you see on the sidewalk who is just barely making it, the one you desperately want to pull over and give a lift to because their faces say they’re dying and their bodies are barely moving though appearing to be attempting to run. Those people are admirable, too, and I say this as one who does not run and hates it. They’re trying, and it’s near impossible. Odds are, it’s not going to be their lifelong passion. This happens for some, but they most likely won’t be runners. Maybe they’ll walk or find that they are passionate about yoga or body pump.

But this lady is a runner. She’s got her route and her pace and her running clothes. She may not run far or go fast or impress the onlookers. But she’s still going.

I tried to go back to prayer. My mind was scattered among the things in my kitchen, out the window, on my calendar, on my (literal) plate. My discipline to at least open my Bible was there, but I wasn’t making grand strides or hearing great words from the Lord. I was just practicing for the next day, when I may show up a little better and listen a little closer.

Paying attention and not paying attention


I strive to pay attention in church. I thought it was hard when I was younger, when I didn’t really understand a lot of what the pastor would drone on and on about teach about. I liked the singing part because I liked singing and enjoyed hearing the people around me sing. But the sitting still and listening part was a little difficult. I drew pictures on the bulletins, sat next to friends and wrote notes back and forth, daydreamed, and thought about lunch.

I remember one time trying to bring Super Fudge by Judy Blume to church, probably because I’d seen a younger child reading a book during the service, and I thought that would be okay. It’d keep me quiet and entertained. My parents weren’t having it. I felt bad for trying to pull something like that at the age of ten, when I was completely capable of siting still. My mom made my leave it in the car, and to this day I can’t think of Judy Blume without feeling a small modicum of guilt. I knew better.

The songs were my favorite part. Even before we went to our church, where music is important and done well and given lots of attention, I knew the words to the songs and liked singing along. We went to a hymn sing at our church one night, and I desperately wanted to suggest “Shine, Jesus, Shine” when they started taking requests, but I couldn’t get up the courage to suggest it. I whispered it to my mom, kind of just so someone else would know what I wanted to sing, and she said (OUT LOUD), “Ashley wants to sing ‘Shine, Jesus, Shine’.” Thus, I was outed, but then we sang that song.

Shine, Jesus, Shine. 

Fill this land with the Father’s glory.

Blaze, Spirit, blaze. 

Set our hearts on fire.

Flow, river, flow. 

Flood the nations with grace and mercy.

Send forth your word, Lord

And let there be light.

See? It’s a good one.

The songs we sing in church are still meaningful to me. And I can now sit perfectly still during the sermon, look like I’m paying attention, and on a regular basis actually be paying attention. If I think of something I need to do later, I write it down and put it out of my mind. I try not to think about lunch or how badly I want to take a nap that afternoon or work the next day or anything.

But when the final song of the service comes, I’m pretty much done with paying attention. At my church, it’s typically a pretty short song, a chorus you sing through twice before you are dismissed. They’ve never been the songs that are most meaningful to me, mostly because I’m already mentally gone.

This week I had a stressful day, which bled into a stressful evening, for a number of reasons. I did some things this week that stretched me in numerous ways and stressed me in numerous ways, so when I went to work one day, my stomach was tied up in knots, and despair was near at hand. Not real despair but the thought that you have too much and feel too much and have too little time and ability to deal.

Out of the blue, one of those short songs we sing at the end of the service came into my mind and kept playing itself over and over. It was one I’ve never particularly liked much, maybe for lack of paying attention to what it said. The tune isn’t anything special, and I’m pretty sure we’ve never sung it in the middle of a service. I’m surprised I even knew the words.

It just kept singing to me.

Oh, let the Son of God enfold you with His Spirit and His love.

Let Him fill your heart and satisfy your soul.

Oh, let Him have the things that hold you,

And His Spirit like a dove will descend upon your heart and make you whole.

How did I miss this before? The meaning became quite clear to me as I kept hearing it in my mind on repeat. The things that hold you… not the things I’m holding but the things that keep me captive. Oh, how true that is! His Spirit like a dove will descend upon your heart and make you wholeYeah, because I feel partial when I’m stressed, partially there, partially capable. This is GOLD.

I had texted a friend earlier and told her how I was feeling. True to her record of faithful friendship, she texted me a prayer for peace that surpasses all understanding.

Somehow this short song I had never paid attention to was bringing me that peace, reminding me that God comes in the middle of stress and anxiety and burden-bearing.

It reminded me that the words of the songs we sing in church can have more to them than we think, that paying attention even when it’s rote or almost lunchtime makes all the difference and on the flip side of that I also realized that God can instill truth into my heart even when I’m not paying attention… and bring it back when I’m ready to.