Just Start

Part 1 of a Work in Progress (WIP)

The White Rabbit put on his spectacles. “Where shall I begin, please your Majesty?” he asked. “Begin at the beginning,” the King said gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll

My to-do list has lists at the moment. Sitting on my desk are ideas for four non-fiction pieces, an idea for a short work of fiction to use as a giveaway, and my blog post idea turned into a blog post series idea. Not to mention, today I began work on a website for my writing which has a to-do list of its ow,n along with sub-lists of lists. My head is spinning like the little blue circle on my computer that show up when I’ve asked it to compute more than it can compute. What’s a writer to do?

Just start!

That was the command Anne Lamott gave to her writing students in the book Bird by Bird. They wanted to know how to be published authors, and she said you have to start writing first. The thought of writing a novel, the thought of having my own website, the thought of spiritual growth and revival all sound great in theory. It is the working it out that slows us down. My first question is where do I start?

Just start!

The king in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland had it right when he said start at the beginning. You have to start where you are. No matter what path lies in front of you, start from where you are and take a step forward. One of the things I learned about anxiety is that action is one of the greatest weapons against it. If you sit and think about something, you will begin to imagine all the worst case scenarios and begin a negative spiral downward until you are frozen in place. However, if you just take action, you are literally and figuratively one step ahead. It frees you to keep moving.

But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:8

If you are moving, then you are making progress, which fuels you to keep moving. Our spiritual walk is just that, a daily walk. We have to get out of bed every morning and decide to walk. We have to start from where we are: sinners saved by grace. Then, we move forward a step at a time through whatever the day holds, whatever life’s journey holds. But, we don’t walk alone.

When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.

Isaiah 43:2

We have a guide and a companion who goes alongside us. So, there is no need to fear what might lie ahead. Our job is to take it one step at a time. With Christ as our Shepherd and Leader, we can’t get lost, although we might go down a rabbit hole or two. Just like Alice we get to the same place at the journey’s end, home sweet home. In the meantime… what is it you need to do?

Just start! Take it one thing at a time and enjoy the moment. It’s all a work in progress, including me.

Coming next week: Part 2 of Work in Progress… Stuck in the Middle

In Praise of Fleas?

But have you known a dog to praise his fleas?

Wm. Butler Yeats

I hate fleas! As I write this, I have literally sprayed myself into the corner of my house, more specifically to my office. Earlier today I gave each cat a dose of flea medicine, so they are currently cleaning themselves profusely while staring at the closed door with suspicion. I am resisting the urge to scratch myself just at the thought of it. In the meantime, the flea spray is doing its job in the rest of the house, so I am writing this blog post while I wait for the two hours to pass.

So, I began to ponder what God might have me learn from this aggravation. I came across the little poem by Yeats. He was talking about refusing to praise bad poets who imitated his poetry because they were like fleas living off of his work. The same could be said of Christians who claim righteousness as if they had done something to deserve it. The only reason we have any righteousness at all is because of Christ within us.

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.

Ephesians 2:8-9

We have salvation because of God’s grace and Christ’s sacrifice. We are all sinners (Romans 3:23), and if we have anything to brag about, it is in Christ alone (Galatians 6:14). So, when I am tempted to think more highly of myself than I ought to, I will try to remember these fleas. You see, the cats didn’t bring fleas into my house. I did. The cats are indoor cats and never go outside. The fleas came in on me and infested my house and my cats. I am to blame.

Now, while I am dealing with the consequences, I still wonder what I can take away from this situation. Well, these little critters have motivated me to do what I should have already done, which is a deep spring cleaning. Maybe a spiritual spring cleaning is in order as well as we try to move past all of these trying times. You see if I had made sure the shop cat had been treated before the first flea bit me, then I wouldn’t be spending my day off fighting these pests. What will it take to motivate you? For your sake, I hope it isn’t fleas.

What Motivates You?

The answer this week has been a palmetto bug, a missing filling, and a sick cat. I’m pretty sure none of those are on any list given by motivational speakers. Still pain and potential suffering are always strong motivators on a good day. However, at the time I couldn’t see the purpose in any of the events, but God does have a way of getting our attention. It all started one morning when I was brushing my teeth and seemed to go downhill from there.

33 Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: 34 So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth; and thy want as an armed man.

Proverbs 24:33-34

Earlier this week, a 4-week-old filling fell out of my tooth for no apparent reason. I was merely brushing my teeth, gently, when it was suddenly gone. The truth is the tooth had felt rough to the touch since I regained feeling the day it was put in, but I was just dealing with it, hoping it would smooth out over time. After all the dental work I had done this year, I didn’t want to go back to the dentist for a while. I was willing to make do, but when it fell out, the nerve was exposed. Talk about motivation to get back to the dentist ASAP! Now, it is smooth and comfortable, and I am grateful it is repaired.

The palmetto bug was a gift of sorts from Sassy, one of my cats. On the night I was trying not to disturb the exposed nerve of my tooth, the cats decided to stay by my side to support me. However, she decided to bring the entertainment. I remember her dropping something on the bed. I assumed it was a toy mouse because she does this quite often; however, the other cats soon got involved in the “hunt” for said mouse. At one point I turned on the light and looked myself because they were keeping me awake, but I found nothing. The next morning when I made the bed I still saw nothing. That night when I pulled back the covers, there was a palmetto bug. She had brought it up on the bed to play with and then lost it. I am now motivated to strip the bed and wash the sheets. I would have been tempted to put off the chore for another day or maybe week (Don’t judge!). Now, it is next on my agenda.

The same night my geriatric tomcat, who has IBS, woke me up by walking across me multiple times and whining in my ear. I tried to ignore him. Then, I heard the sound of a cat getting sick somewhere near, which motivated me to make sure it wasn’t on my bed. I got up and found the issue and proceeded to clean it up at 2:30 AM. However, it is better to clean it up when it happens than to find said places the hard way.

I didn’t realize it when it was happening, but all of these irritations were motivations to get up and get moving when I just wanted to curl up in bed and sleep. There was the temptation to just deal with it tomorrow, but as the saying goes tomorrow never comes.

I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.

John 9:4

I know it is better to take care of issues as they come up, whether it is a bad tooth or just a task we don’t want to do. The same is true of the good things in life, like enjoying a sunset or using the fine china. We only have today, so let’s make the most of it. Let’s get those pesky chores done early and then go enjoy what the day may bring.

Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

Matthew 6:34

So, get the things you dread the most off of your list first and then go get a cup of tea or coffee, pet an animal or hug a kid, and do something you enjoy. Let God handle tomorrow. He’s better at it anyway.

The Approach

Last week I was working on a couple of deadlines with a pressure headache, making it hard to think. I sent a draft of one article to the editor with the caveat that I knew it needed work, but I was having trouble getting it right, especially the tone. The editor sent me back notes saying that the tone was definitely negative and suggesting a more positive slant to the same topic of scripture. It was the same idea, but it came at the topic from a different angle that was more about pointing someone in the right direction versus reprimanding them.

Tone will get you every time. No matter how true your words are if the person feels singled out and chastised, they are unlikely to take heed to what you have to say. How many times have you been in an argument and the other party says, “It’s not what you said; it is how you said it”? That, my friend, is tone. It is a common problem, especially in today’s electronic society.

When I was teaching and tutoring online, there was an emphasis on pointing out both the good and bad in an assignment. The trainers suggested the equivalent of a compliment sandwich. You open with what the student had done well, give critiques, and then close with an overview of the paper as a whole focusing on good points and positive suggestions on how to proceed. This approach helped the student know what they were doing right while helping them to improve in weaker areas. The student then felt inspired to make the corrections in order to make their writing better.

So, before we decide to correct someone spiritually, or grammatically, let’s take a look at what advice we can glean from the Bible on the subject. Proverbs is known as a book of wisdom and instruction, and it has a lot to say about words and how we use them:

  • “A wholesome tongue is a tree of life: but perverseness therein is a breach in the spirit.” (Proverbs 15:4)
  • “Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones.” (Proverbs 16:24)
  • The words of a man’s mouth are as deep waters, and the wellspring of wisdom as a flowing brook.” (Proverbs 18:4)
  • “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.” (Proverbs 25:11)

All of these verses emphasize the idea of good words: wholesome tongue, pleasant words, deep waters, wellspring of wisdom, word fitly spoken. These phrases suggest words that are chosen thoughtfully and not just spouted off the top of our heads. Unfortunately, we are a society that speaks first and thinks later, me included at times; therefore, how should we approach correcting someone?

First, we need to make sure our tone is right, meaning humble and helpful not egotistical and condescending. Second, timing is as important as tone. The acronym HALT is a good one to remember: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired. If you, or the other party, are any one of those things, you should probably wait. Finally, and most importantly, we need to figure out our motivation. If we aren’t doing it out of love, humility, and the leading of the Holy Spirit, then we should probably keep our mouths shut.

Now, let’s recap: think before you speak. That pretty much sums it up. It’s simple, but it is not easy. Writers have a step up on other people because we can revise before we publish; however, the way my face looks when people say stupid things is another issue altogether. I should probably work on that and the think before you speak thing. I would say it might require duct tape, but that won’t help the eye rolling. Well, let’s just all try to do our best. We are all a work in progress, which we would all do well to remember.

Motivation

We all have the best of intentions of getting up in the morning and getting things done, and then the alarm rings and we groan and roll over. Monday morning…notice I said Monday… I was not ready to get up yet. It was the day after Easter, and the weekend had been busy. I just wanted a few more minutes. As I started to drift off to sleep, the persistent poking of a small paw woke me up. I lifted up the covers, thinking she wanted to join me, but she jumped under and back out again. We repeated this routine a couple of times until I felt something tickle my arm. I sat up and turned on the lamp to find a palmetto bug in my bed. Sassy was chasing it around, which is why she wanted me to move the covers. Let’s just say that motivated me to get out of bed and get said bug out of my bed. Going back to sleep was no longer an option.

As it turned out, I got quite a few things done that morning before work, which made me feel productive and got some things off of my to do list. However, I still had hard time not being aggravated for the ruckus that got me up and moving. I was thankful for the end result even if I would have rather skipped the unsettling events that led up to it. I think God has a way of using unsettling events to move us in the direction that we should go when we would rather stay under the covers and nap.

We all like our comfort zones, where we feel all warm and safe, but God wants to go on an adventure with us, spiritually speaking. He wants to us to cast out into the deep and go fishing where we never have before because He wants to do something new in our lives. In John 21, Jesus comes to some of his disciples who were fishing all night and had caught nothing. He told them to cast out into the deep and cast their nets on the right side of the boat. They were a little skeptical, but obeyed and caught almost more than they could haul. The reward for obedience was greater than they had imagined.

Mind you, the rewards are not always tangible, but they are always more than we could have imagined. God wants to do something great in our lives, but sometimes he has to unsettle us and shake us free from our routines and send us in a new direction in order to do something new. Sometimes it is something substantial like the loss of a job, and sometimes it is just a palmetto bug in our bed that motivates us to change our morning routine to make room for something new. You may not like the motivation, but use it to cast out into the deep with Christ and you will not be disappointed by the end result.