Stuck in the Middle

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”

Frederick Douglass

You know that excitement you get when you begin a new project? What about the sense of satisfaction when you finish one? Do you ever hear anyone say, “I’m so excited about working fifty rows of  K1 P1 ribbing?

For the non-knitters, K1 P1ribbing is knitter-speak for knit one stitch and pearl one stitch until you lose your mind. The stitch pattern makes a lovely edge for sweaters and hats, but it can be a little boring. It also takes a little attention to detail because you constantly switch the yarn from the back to the front to the back again. If you are just knitting a row, you don’t really have to think about it as your hands use muscle memory to just do it. The ribbing takes a little work.

Writing books is very similar. You are excited about the idea in your mind and start creating the character and their world. You look forward to finishing it and getting it published. In between the two lies the ribbing, aka figuring out how to get your protagonist from point A to point Z without losing your reader or your mind. It takes a little work.

Our spiritual lives are not really that different. When we first come to know Christ, we are excited and eager to dive into the Word and live the Christian life. It’s a great time. Then, we are also thinking about what it will be like when we get to Heaven and everything is complete and whole in Christ’s presence. In the meantime, life happens and we get distracted by daily tasks and demands on our time. Keeping our enthusiasm during the daily grind is difficult sometimes. It takes a little work.

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,

Hebrews 12:1

Christians are a work in progress. We have been saved, but God is still working on us. The key word is work. It requires a struggle, but nothing good ever comes easy. The good news is that it’s not all up to us. God is working on us, and God will finish what he starts.

Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:

Philippians 1:6

There is no greater example of this than the caterpillar becoming a butterfly. It takes time for the transformation to occur, and when the butterfly is ready to emerge from the cocoon, it has to struggle. The thing about the struggle is that it makes the butterflies wings strong so that when it is finally free, it can fly.

When you find yourself struggling in your daily walk, remember that God is not finished with you yet. Struggle means you are growing spiritual wings so that you can fly. Meanwhile, you can’t speed through the process like Adam Sandler’s character in Click. His remote control allowed him to fast forward through the parts of life he didn’t like, but in the end he realized that he’d fast forwarded through his life and missed a lot of great little moments. So, learn to slow down so that you can enjoy the little moments because that’s where life is really lived: in the middle.

Stay the Course

“‘Go back?’ he thought. ‘No good at all! Go sideways? Impossible! Go forward? Only thing to do! On we go!’ So up he got, and trotted along with his little sword held in front of him and one hand feeling the wall, and his heart all of a patter and a pitter.”

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

In The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Bilbo Baggins sets off on an adventure with Gandalf and group of dwarves. At first he is unwilling to join the quest, but at the last minute he throws things in a bag and runs off to catch up with the group. It’s not long into the trip before he is thrown into the uncomfortable by being forced to ride a pony. It’s his first hint that the journey will be full of twists and turns, not all of them pleasant, but he keeps moving forward.

I find myself in the same boat, so to speak. I start a new knitting project so excited, picking out colors and making plans. Even casting on brings joy, but part way through the pattern we hit a snag or have problems understanding the pattern, and suddenly we want to throw the project in our bag for another day or forget it altogether.

Every April our Ladies Group does a Bible study, and this year we are studying Promises of God from Love God Greatly. The first week’s topic was God is with you. As we were discussing the lessons, a commentary mentioned that the devil uses discouragement as a favorite tool for making Christians ineffective. It keeps us from doing what God has called us to do. We also discussed that sometimes you just have to do it afraid, knowing God will be with you. Another comment was that we need to stay the course no matter what is happening because God is with us. The study suggested praying God’s words back to Him in order to combat fear and discouragement. The main verse for the week was:

So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Isaiah 41:10

This week I put that suggestion to use and I felt the power of standing on God’s Word. Today, I began a short-term extra job to help raise funds for a newer car. Fridays are the one day that I can work an 8-hour shift, so I was discouraged when I woke up to a sinus migraine. The headache began to worsen after an hour of working, so I took a break. I came back and had to do a training set. The headache was no better, so I informed my leader that I was taking medicine and a break and would hopefully be back later. The headache finally died down to a dull ache, so I went back to work around 2:30.

Within an hour, my validity dropped and I had to do a training session and pass a training set in order to continue working. At one point, I considered just signing out for the day. In the middle of the training, my practice set was only 50% valid and I got very discouraged. I thought that maybe I shouldn’t be doing the job. I read Isaiah 41:10 back to God and reminded Him that He had put this job in place and I needed to pass in order to keep working, so I needed wisdom to answer the questions. I passed. Even then I considered quitting for the day while I was ahead despite the fact that there were 2 hours left on my shift and I had lost a couple of hours with the headache. Just then the phrase stay the course caught my eye. I knew I had to keep going. Like Bilbo I had to keep going forward.

God said not to be afraid because he would be with us, strengthen us, help us and uphold us, but He never said it would all be easy. It takes rough roads sometimes to remind us who is in control and where our help comes from:

 I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.

Psalms 121:1-2

When the journey is full of twists, turns, potholes, and even an occasional detour, we know we can stay the course because God is with us. Don’t let the devil use discouragement or fear to stop you. Pray God’s Word back to Him and feel the power of the Almighty begin to work. Then just like Bilbo keep going forward and stay the course. Even greater adventures still await.

Test Prep

Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

2 Timothy 2:15

When do you study for a test? Do you start from the moment you are given new material, or wait until the last minute and try to cram all the information into your head at once? Either method could work, but what won’t work is waiting until you are in the midst of the test to try to learn the material.

I remember having to take an open book test once and everyone was so excited. Many of the students decided they didn’t have to study because they could just look up the information. However, when we got the test, I was thankful that I had already read and marked the chapters because it was easier and quicker to find the answers. Since there were a ton of questions to answer, it was possible to run out of time before completing the test. It pays to prepare.

The truth is that tests are always coming. Most of the ones we face in life are not given a letter grade. Sometimes it is pass or fail, and sometimes it is comportment or how we behaved. So, how do we prepare for life’s tests? I have found I get the best results from good study habits.

But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.

Matthew 6:7

First, we have to actually study, which means reading the material, taking notes, and even memorizing verses. However, memorizing only takes you so far because memorizing is not the same as learning. Ever memorize information long enough to take a test and then promptly download the information afterwards? If you really want to pass life’s tests, you have to let the words seep into your soul so that when you find yourself in the midst of a test, the words will come back to you. We do this by meditating on the words and what they mean.

But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.

James 1:22

Second, we need to do more than just meditate. James tells us that we have to do more than just listen or read the words; we have to do what the words say. When studying any topic, you learn by applying what you are reading. I can read a knitting pattern all day long, study the notes, and look at the pictures, but if I never pick up my knitting needles, the pattern is relatively useless.

Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.

Philippians 4:9

We learn by practicing, knowing that we probably won’t always get it right, but we will get better. We can’t just do it one time and do it perfectly. We have to keep doing it on a consistent basis to maintain our skill level and even improve.  The end result is the peace of God in our lives even during the test.

With that in mind, you might want to get a jump start on studying because you never know when there might be a pop quiz on the horizon. I often find that God uses my daily Bible reading to prepare me for what is coming next. It’s not a pass or fail on a pop quiz that I worry about though. My goal is a “well done good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23). So don’t beat yourself up over a failure because learning from your mistakes is still learning, and God is looking for those with a willingness to learn. Are you ready?

A Spot of Trouble

Yesterday I was knitting a sock and came to a thin piece of yarn. The yarn has been in storage for years and had gotten damaged. I thought we had pulled off all the damaged section before I got started, so I thought I could work this one little strip in and continue on. After several rows, there was one area so thin that it looked like the sock has already been worn…a lot. I either needed to unwind the yarn until I had removed the rest of the damage and start the sock over, or I needed to TINK back before the worn area and cut the yarn and add the skein back where the yarn is stronger. Neither option appealed to me, so I decided to put the project aside.

Next I picked up an afghan square from a project I have been working on a long time. I read the instructions again to refresh my memory and started working. The first few rows went well, and then I got to the tricky part of the pattern. I misread the instructions and by the time I realized it, I was unsure how to TINK back to redo it. I put that project back in the bag.

I decided to quit for the day and get help before the issue required more work to repair. I’m not sure why I kept working on the first project. Maybe it was because I knew if I asked for help, I probably wouldn’t like the answer, so I tried to plow ahead and pretend there wasn’t a problem. Hiding my head in the sand couldn’t keep me from seeing the issue a few rows down the road. I learned my lesson on the second project, stopping before I made the issue worse.

Sometimes we just need to stop and reevaluate the situation before we plow ahead. We may need to ask for assistance and then be prepared to do the work necessary to make something right before we move ahead, whether it is a knitting project, a relationship, or our spiritual health. Otherwise, we will find ourselves backtracking to the point in the road where it all went wrong in the first place, wasting a lot of time and energy in the process.

 

Not Responding

Not Responding. Those two words seem to be the phrase of the day. I spent an aggravating hour, on and off, trying to reach the mortgage company to find out how to proceed with taking care of an issue. First, I waited in line on hold only to have the operator never pick up after 10 rings. I tried twice with same result. Finally dialed another number and got a response but forgot to clarify one thing. Started over and was sent to the same person’s voicemail that has not returned my last 3 voicemails…still not responding.

I went to the garage to see about mowing the yard. My tires all loose air, so I have to pump them up before I start every time. I pumped them up, but one tire looked suspiciously out of kilter. I backed the mower up a bit and my fears were confirmed. No matter how much air I tried to put in the tire, it was not responding. It had come off its rim.

Just now I decided I should just work on grading papers until I could get someone to assist me with the rim and downloaded a file. When I tried to open it, Word was not responding.

I was afraid to touch my knitting at that point, or anything else for that matter.Needless to say, I was getting very frustrated, but a thought occurred to me. I wonder how many times God has sent me a message or given me a task to do, and I was not responding. How many times has he left a voicemail that was un-returned, tried to work with stubborn material, or had his commands ignored? I’m not sure I want to know the answer.

 

UFOs and the Power of Finishing

In knitting there are a lot of technical knitting terms, but there is also universally recognized jargon.  One such term that falls under jargon is UFO, which stands for Un-Finished Object. A UFO is when you start something and later discard it for any number of reasons, including it was too hard, confusing or boring. It then ends up under the bed, in the back of the closet or in the bottom of one of multiple knitting bags. If someone were to pick it up, it would most likely be unrecognizable to anyone else and possibly yourself. In contrast, a WIP (Work In Progress) is a project that you are actively working on or at least contemplating. You know what it is and have a good idea where you are even if you have laid it aside for the moment.

In a previous blog I wrote about having a few UFOs lying around. They had been lying around long enough to cease being a WIP. As a task-oriented person, UFOs bother me. Most of my goals for the New Year include finishing some things I started. For instance, a shelf of books that I’ve been meaning to read and some knitting UFOs that I found when I cleaned up the house for the holidays. I have read 6 of the books and finished 3 of the UFOs. Finishing those things makes me feel lighter and productive. It makes me want to finish other things.

One of the principles of physics is that an object in motion will stay in motion, and an object at rest will remain at rest unless acted upon. I had become an object at rest, but the word rest is misleading. I was sitting still, but I was not resting. The goals I set for the New Year and the cleaning fit I get when it is time to put away the Christmas decorations set me in motion. The more I finish, the more I want to finish. Then, I can move on to new things.

So, do yourself a favor. Look around for a UFO and turn it into a finished project. It will make you feel better. If you totally are not interested in the UFO anymore, get rid of it. Frog the project (undo the stitches and roll the yarn into a ball) and do something else with it, or just give it to someone else. Lighten your self-imposed load and free yourself to do something else, just don’t become an object at rest or worse yet…a UFO.