It’s All Routine

The Seed Sower – Jeremy Sams Art

“Sow a thought, and you reap an act;
Sow an act, and you reap a habit;
Sow a habit, and you reap a character;
Sow a character, and you reap a destiny.”

― Samuel Smiles (1812-1904)

Four days before the Spring semester was to start – the university announced, to be safe, that we would do classes completely remote for the first two weeks. Well, that sent me into a scramble, launching a new plan. What it also did was delay the normal routine of life that keeps me sane and safe, something I take for granted but that’s essential for living a life that’s moving in the right direction. That’s what I want to do, keep moving toward future chapters.

“It’s amazing how a little tomorrow can make up for a whole lot of yesterday.” ― John Guare

As I think about it, routines in my life do three things:

They keep me moving in the right direction. This past year has been a mess for me. A series of starts and stops. It’s not just the dramatic changes in my work and social routines – but my basic life rhythms are off balance as I adjust to living alone. They don’t give names to tidal waves do they?

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I need to be thinking about where I want to go and the steps necessary to get there and so order my days in that direction. I teach college students to think about their learning like a 9-5 job (that metaphor is quickly going out the door!). Work on class assignments, reading, projects, etc. each and every day. Take specific steps as you plan your day that are carrying you toward your goal. Let’s see if anyone is listening.

While I’m sitting at home, on the couch – not going to my office, interacting with students one-on-one via messages, I try to keep a daily routine running. I write a list of tasks that need to be accomplished each day/week. Big and little, each must be done. There are also routines related to larger ongoing projects that I nibble on most days, like building an online course, painting a picture or writing those books.

These routines hold my focus on what’s important. It’s been too easy to lose whole days (even a week here and there) during solitary confinement. I always thought getting old would take longer (I stole that line). Time really is moving faster. I don’t want to lose days that had something essential in them that needed to be done.

It’s easy to wander off the trail and get confused about what I’m supposed to be doing. This prolonged time of separation and isolation can make anyone wonder about larger purposes. It seems as if there’s so much more time to fill. When I’m asking myself big questions related to mission and purpose, keeping the daily routine helps me to trudge on. You wouldn’t believe how much out loud talking to myself I’m doing!

“Whenever you want to achieve something, keep your eyes open, concentrate and make sure you know exactly what it is you want. No one can hit their target with their eyes closed.” ― Paulo Coelho

Doing work, reaching out to students, devotional/reflection, contacting friends and family, putting ideas on paper – all of these practices have been important and are still. It doesn’t matter how I feel or what the plans are for next week. Shaping each day around these sign posts help to show me what’s important. One day after another.

Routines can replace inspiration. I’m too often looking for burning bushes. Most of life is buttering the toast and putting the washing into the dryer. God’s presence in my daily life is very evident, but that doesn’t mean I don’t often feel trapped in the backwaters of sitting here.

“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” ― Jack London

Let’s be honest, these days motivation and encouragement can be hard to find. Isolation is one cause, fewer social interactions can be another. Inspiration is something that’s often taken for granted. When it’s run dry, we notice, usually too late. I don’t always feel like it, but getting up at the same time, working on my list, getting online and running all the errands – most of the time the inner drive is very half-hearted, but routines keep the ship (me) afloat for another day.

When you put into action each day what you believe and know to be true – it becomes a lived out kind of inspiration. Waiting to be inspired is a death sentence. The trick is to keep walking in the spirit of what’s buried deep within you.

“God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December.” ― J.M. Barrie

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It’s In The Mail

“Usually if you pray from the heart, you get an answer—the phone rings or the mail comes, and light gets in through the cracks, so you can see the next right thing to do. That’s all you need.” ― Anne Lamott

Most people right now report having extra time on their hands. Having to get reorganized due to the quarantine, working from home, kids no longer in school,  grocery trips to a minimum, no more out of the house entertainment or eating out…

I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know first hand. This is just to set the stage for today’s suggestion.

In addition to your expanding expertise in being shut up and socially isolated, some sort of suffering has probably marched through your life in some degree:

  • People are sick and some are dying
  • There are growing fears as the virus spreads across our country
  • Businesses have shut down and people are out of work
  • Small businesses are facing their own demise
  • Sometimes, necessary supplies are not available
  • Significant events are cancelled and postponed (prom, graduation, weddings)
  • Education in all forms is being remodeled and experienced in dramatically different ways – lots of stress on everyone
  • Families at home are having to strengthen their existing relationships and give so much more space to each other (how did people in log cabins do this?)

Be reminded that the normal problems of life continue even when there is a plague. Cancer, aging, heart disease, and addictions still plague us every day. There are relationship crises that were on fire before the virus came knocking. People problems don’t go away like magic just because a global catastrophe arrives. Sometimes they get even worse.

“You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you.” — Frederick Buechner

My point, you are probably wading through problems of all sorts these days. You surely know of others who are. Maybe there’s someone who’s in deeper than you.

My two-year-old grandson just dumped out baby powder and tracked it from one end of his house to the other. His mom filmed the confrontation, he admitted and backtracked the whole incident to her. He seemed to reflect in his expression, “yes, I made a mess, let’s just clean it up, what’s the problem?”

Some of the problems we all face do get better when we face them together. Others are not going to go away, at least not quickly enough. There are bitter and dark days ahead.

When you think of someone else who is suffering right now, to whatever degree, I’m suggesting you send a note or card in the mail.

  1. The postal service is still operating
  2. You can buy stamps at the grocery store (Amazon will even deliver)
  3. There are packs of cards at the grocery, Target or Wal-Mart

Sure, it’s so much more efficient to just send an email or text. Even a phone call is easier (and more personal!). Yes, yes, I agree. Please be efficient rather than not at all. But, over the years I have noticed in people’s offices and homes, cards received in the mail. They were saved and kept out – used for continued encouragement and inspiration. A card in the mail becomes an artifact that can give your gift day after day. I know that when we were fighting cancer at my house, we filled a whole wall with cards and notes. It hung there for years, building up our courage each day. It was like real people standing there holding us up.

Yes, it’s a little extra effort (what else are doing right now?)

Yes, you will have to look up a mailing address (updating your contacts instead of watching TV?)

Yes, there are multiple steps involved (actual steps, off the couch, out the door)

When we do things like sending cards in our digital age we are strengthening the ties that bind us together. This is certainly a time in history when we need that kind of strength. Now, start making your list of people in your life that need to hear from you in one way or another. Don’t put it off. Do it today. Get some stamps and send out a card (you’re allowed to buy cards at the store even when you don’t have someone to send them to!). Do something about that tug at year soul.

“I’ve always felt there is something sacred in a piece of paper that travels the earth from hand to hand, head to head, heart to heart.” ― Robert Michael Pyle

Distraction

shipwreck-pictures

“The soul is torn apart in a painful condition as long as it prefers the eternal because of its Truth but does not discard the temporal because of familiarity.”

― Augustine of Hippo, Confessions

How long has it been since your last distraction?

Sometimes, they last for a short time and then you refocus and get back to it. I was trying to get a calculation mistake corrected in an email the other day and almost had to chase everyone out of my office so I could focus and get it right. That was a brief distraction and I can’t do math equations with five conversations going on all around me.

There are all sorts of sources of advice about how to keep focused and avoid those inevitable distractions. That kind of advice can be a wonderful distraction itself when you’re tired of whatever task is before you.

“I always advise people never to give advice.”  ― P.G. Wodehouse

What about the ones that take us away for long, long stretches of time and space? Distractions that become habits. Persistent distractions that get in the way consistently.

I was thinking the other day about being distracted for years. Is it possible that a distraction can last that long? Can distraction(s) keep you from what you know is really essential? Can you become distracted for so long that you forget the real purpose, meaning, calling, direction, plan or obedient steps to your life?

It seems like whole seasons of my life pass by and I end up distracted by so much urgency. I was thinking THIS was the big plan but then one day realized it was all a distraction. I get frustrated or angry or despondent because of the distraction of this present moment – losing sight of eternity. Days blend into one long blurr because I’ve lost touch with the eternal purpose that I know is lodged in my soul and draws me onward.

Circumstances get blamed for their distracting effect. I just finished teaching my Sunday School class about Saint Paul chained up in a ship sailing through a fourteen day hurricane all the while giving the captain nautical advice. God had told Paul that he was going to take him to Rome. Even the certainty of a shipwreck, over two hundred panicked passengers, crew members fighting for everyone’s life, none of that could distract him from his certainty of where he had been told he was going – even if it meant a potential execution.

I’m so glad that he never gave up. It inspires me to keep running, despite the failures, opposition and distractions…

I think he was able to keep from being distracted because he had something very certain and specific to focus his mind, heart and soul upon. Unlike Peter, Paul didn’t start to sink but kept his eyes of faith on what he knew was eternal. He certainly suffered tremendous physical, emotional and social pain. Read his epistles and at times he reveals how much he struggled. But, he wasn’t distracted.

“Let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us.” – Hebrews 12:1

Circumstances, like weather, change. I don’t want to have a fair weather faith.  Even when I’m soaked to the soul, I want to ignore more and more of those constant distractions and keep walking as if I’m a citizen of eternity right now.

“It is eternity now. I am in the midst of it. It is about me in the sunshine; I am in it as the butterfly in the light-laden air. Nothing has to come; it is now. Now is eternity; now is the immortal life.”

― Richard Jefferies

 

 

A New Year, Another Chance

You wouldn’t believe how many people in America make new year’s resolutions. Guess how many are about weight, health and habits? Eventually our lists start to address walking closer with God. He ended up at number ten on one recent national list I saw. Maybe we think about God only every now and then because we perceive Him to be far away.  But we have to deal with those extra pounds every time we try to put on our pants. What if we had to put on our faith each day like a pair of pants?

I saw this the other day…

“Life has no remote, get up and change it yourself.”

Each day comes with it’s own challenge. I don’t know about you, but I need some inspiration to get me through some of my days. On other days I find that I’m traveling too much on autopilot and not really as engaged as I want to be. I need to be inspired to be the real me, to interact with others in ways that matter. What about you?

I don’t want to sit back and just take what comes. I want to journey each day and keep my balance because I’m walking by faith and not by sight. How are you going to walk into 2015?

“So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.”

– 2 Corinthians 4:18

Let’s get up, walk into 2015 and practice at keeping our eyes on what lasts forever.