Faith

Faith, Joy, Work

Reality Check: I am, indeed, a work horse

Most days, I feel like a work horse.

My life is full of obligations that live on repeat.

At home there is the never-ending cycle of laundry, cooking and cleaning, school drop-offs, shaken up with a doctors appointment every now and again. At work, it’s bookkeeping, reconciling checkbooks, onboarding and offboarding employees, and all of the details in between. Some days, it feels like I continually pour myself out, only to be left completely empty at the end of the day…and then I need to wake up and do it all again the next day.

On one such day recently, I was driving to work, feeling tired and like my recent Christmas break was full of more work than rest. I was thinking about years and seasons past…times I’d spent cross country skiing through fresh Sierra snow, instead of driving on busy highways; living in a house with a view of mountains, instead of hundreds of vinyl-sided houses. I was feeling melancholy and nostalgic…an exhausting combination to start out a busy day.

Then on my Daily Audio Bible podcast, I heard the following scripture:

Psalm 32:8-10 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you. Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you. Many are the woes of the wicked, but the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him.

I instantly thought of how different the life of a work horses is from the well-kept horses I see in the barns scattered throughout the Tennessee countryside. 

The work horses have a daily objective and purpose. In the mountains, they carried heavy loads of  food and provisions to hikers and the high country camps. In the Grand Canyon, each day they carry tourists down the 5000 foot descent to the Colorado River; and then the next day turn around and carry the tourists back up.

The horses kept for pleasure have a different life…one that is far more focused on their wants and likes, than that of a work horse. 

I realized that what I most wanted in life, at that exact moment, was to be a kept horse, in a nice stable with acres of grass to graze at my leisure.

Instead, that day as I drove to work, I came to the undeniable realization that my current lot in life is to be a work horse. I am a hard worker who is diligent and thorough. I’m faithful and trustworthy and consistent. Just like so many of you who are reading this.

But, as the scripture references, I also tend to be a horse that needs to be controlled by bit and bridle. For the past four years, I’ve been engaged in a spirited battle of MY will for my life, versus GOD’S will. 

My will looks like mountain streams, and beautiful views and long walks along the Tuolumne River with my husband. God’s will currently looks like a 40-minute commute, wrangling with Quickbooks, and time away from my family…but it also includes helping to make a fantastic ministry even better, using my talents in new and interesting ways, and being part of a team who is engaged in actively serving and helping people in our community. 

Living out God’s will for my life requires faithful hard work and a dozen daily decisions to set aside my own ideas for my life, to fully embrace His. Because God has different plans, and they are always better than whatever I could imagine.

 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you. 

God saw a ministry in Franklin, Tennessee, that somehow needed exactly what I’d learned while running our small business. God saw schools where our kids could thrive, and a church that would make us come alive in ways we never imagined. Each step of the way, God has revealed His will for my life, and my family’s life. And He continues to do so. 

Many are the woes of the wicked, but the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him.

Trusting God, and really believing that his intent is to bless me (and you) and to love me (and you) UNFAILINGLY, is what transforms daily work into an offering to Him. It makes it, not about my talents and effort, but about showing up, saying “Here I am,” and allowing Him to use my life that day, however He sees fit. 

 

Faith, Married Life, Mom Life, More Posts, Work

Excellence Matters: Embrace Your Calling

Home ownership came with a lot of life lessons, especially concerning our septic system. As a kid, I’d always grown up with the convenience of sewer lines…you flush the toilet, and it all disappears.

It turns out that septic systems require a bit more attention. Unfortunately, I didn’t discover this until four years into home ownership, when our septic lines started failing, leaking sewage into a nearby stream. It wasn’t good.

I don’t remember the name of the man who taught me how to take care of my septic system, but I remember one thing: He was passionate about them.

As he sat on the tailgate of his pickup truck, his dusty cowboy hat framing a nearly toothless mouth, he taught me that I had two septic lines, and I needed to manually switch them every few months. He taught me about things like bacteria and leach fields and sledge layers, and what happens when the sledge layer makes it into the leach fields (it’s not good).

I sat there, soaking in this new knowledge as if I were learning the most riveting subject matter, and walked away understanding how to take care of the intricacies of this system that I had purchased with my house, but had formerly known nothing about. Even better, he fixed our septic system.

Four years before that, I sat signing my mortgage papers with my friend, Terri. Terri is a fellow mom, with kids near the age of mine. We spent years in our Bunco group sharing the details of our lives. But seeing Terri in action in her job was inspiring to me.

At the time, she was a mortgage broker, and over the course of an hour, she distilled 30+ pages of contracts into easy-to-understand nuggets. She reviewed each page with a critical eye, showed us where to sign, and explained the subtle nuances of the fine print. That day, I gained a new appreciation for the gifts my friend brought to her job…and was again, amazed at what a well-embraced calling looked like in action.

I can think of countless times I’ve been amazed, watching a person’s gifts at work:

  • The surgeon who mended my son’s cleft lip into a complete smile.
  • The nurses who expertly guided chemo into my husband’s body, and watched over him with an experienced eye.
  • The photographer who decided sandhill cranes were something worth preserving, celebrating and documenting…so he spent a chunk of his life doing just that.
  • Another photographer who gave his time, talents and money to the Raw Sea, helping preserve the last untouched ocean on our planet, allowing scientists a space to study and learn, so they can help the areas of our planet that are anything but untouched.
  • The barista at the coffee shop who made a pretty picture in the milky foam during a particularly trying day.
  • The mom of four kids who somehow managed to keep a calm, steady voice, though her kids were running circles around her…

Excellence matters.

Deciding to be a master at your trade blesses people and our world.

I’ve seen so many people coast through life, giving a half hearted effort as they punch a time clock. What if we embraced our lives; our jobs; our roles in life; as more than a means of making money? What if we saw it as EXACTLY where God wanted us to be, at this point in time, for a unique purpose? What if we saw it as a divine appointment to make the world better, or to simply make someone’s day a bit better?

The longer I live, the more I’m realizing that embracing my callings, for all they are worth, is the one single thing I can do to improve our world. Because no one else has my unique background, skills or desires.

And no one else has yours.

Today, I challenge you to embrace your calling, wherever you are at this exact moment of your life, and use it to bless the world — whether it’s as a mortgage broker; or repairing septic systems; or protecting a corner of our planet; or a person or animal in need; or momming your kids; or making a good cup of coffee for the tired person in front of you.

If we do our life’s work with our whole hearts, it will make the world a different place around us — and beyond us, as we inspire others to do the same.

Colossians 3:23
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord.”

Faith

Since Cars Don’t Fly…Learn To Be Patient…

At the top of Glacier Point Road, I gazed down at Yosemite Valley, 2,000 feet directly below and thought, “Gosh, if my car could just fly, I’d be down there in 30 seconds.” Instead, it took 1.25 hours to navigate the mountain roads down to Yosemite Valley, behind a long line of tourist traffic.

Similarly, on my morning commute, I slowed my car down to a painful 25 miles per hour to exit the highway, thinking, “if my car could just jump off the bridge, I wouldn’t be so bored, with all of this slowing down nonsense…” But I drove the clover leaf, turned on my left turn signal, and waited to turn onto the road below.

I am always looking for a shortcut; for an easier path; for something that takes less time. But I’m also not stupid. I know that my car can’t fly, and driving off a highway overpass may get me to the ground beneath quickly, but not in one piece…

So I slow down…and I do what I’m supposed to do. I do what’s wise, and calculated, and prudent, but gosh…sometimes, it’s just so boring!

Driving roads like this reminds me of how I look for shortcuts in other areas of my life. I get bored of the waiting, and the doing, and the praying, and JUST WANT TO MAKE SOMETHING HAPPEN.

So, I do something drastic…like the time I cut my hair super short in college, because I didn’t want to look so young; or the time I decided to repaint my living room at 9PM at night because the white walls were making me that nuts…

Or I lash out, becoming suddenly irritated and bitter over things that don’t normally make me flinch.

Or I quit…because I’m just so tired of trying, and waiting, and trying, and waiting, and trying, and waiting, again…

In those times, it’s so hard to stay the course. To do the next good thing. To persevere…Because I just want to be off the stinking road, and at the final destination…

Yes, I know “the joy is in the journey,” but for Pete’s sake, can’t the journey include a side trip to Hawaii, or at least a Mai Tai on the house, every once in awhile?

But here’s the reality: If you don’t navigate the roads in Yosemite carefully, you’ll end up driving over a 1,500 foot cliff. If you don’t slow down on the highway exit, you’ll cause a 20-car pile up, and do much more than ruin the morning commute.

And if you take short cuts in life, because you’re tired or bored or lazy…it often leads to disaster.

So, despite myself, I’m learning to cultivate this thing called patience. As I told my 5-year-old son, patience is a super power. Having peace in the waiting is 99% of the battle, isn’t it?

As you wait for the diagnosis…

As you wait to see if the offer on your house was accepted…

As you wait to see if the business idea will succeed or fail…

As you wait to see if the college will accept you..

What if, instead of worrying and feeling like life was out of control, you rested?

What if, instead of planning and strategizing and thinking, you trusted?

What if you believed that waiting is not only okay, but is an essential part of the process?

What if you expected to wait?

As we learn to wait, God shows His peace and His plan, in an entirely new way…in His own good time.

Psalm 27:14 Wait patiently for the LORD. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the LORD.

 

Faith, Living In Tennessee, Mom Life, Work

A New Plan: Be Hope

“Where do you work?”

This simple question has a way of turning into a serious discussion, when you work for a nonprofit organization.

“I work for an organization that fights the sex trade in Cambodia,” the woman said to me.

Just like that, the small talk was over, because how do you say something trite like, “How interesting!” when you realize that someone is taking their very best talents and applying it to helping…truly helping…helpless people?

She told me American businessmen go to Cambodia to have sex with children. When the founder of her organization first went to Cambodia, a little boy ran up to the plane and tried to sell his sister for sex.

“The couple who founded the organization…they came back to America and knew they had to try to do SOMETHING, so she started our organization,” she told me in a calm, even voice. I could tell she had this conversation all of the time. That the story no longer shocked her because fighting the horrid reality was a part of her daily life.

A man joined our small circle, and I asked, “How about you? Where do you work?

“I work for a nonprofit that provides beds to orphans in Uganda.”

Orphans in Uganda.

I found my vocabulary to be limited, and my ability to share stories to be non-existent. So I just listened, and asked questions, and felt somehow like I had stepped onto foreign, holy ground…ground Christened with the time and talents of people who gave up pursuing monetary riches, for pursuing something profoundly deeper.

I didn’t expect this.

As far as I knew, my afternoon was going to be spent attending an HR conference on harassment, and how to protect your organization. It sounded like a dry meeting, and I was more excited about the Starbucks latte I bought on the way than attending the actual class.

I learned a few things from the class, but what I learned most came from listening to the other participants. Within the first five minutes, I felt something change in my heart…and as I walked out of the church where the meeting took place, I knew something had fundamentally shifted in my life focus.

For twenty years, I spent my time and talents growing a business. I was aggressively pursuing and living the dream my husband and I had set out to achieve…working for ourselves; traveling; having a solid income to provide for our family; being able to afford a house, a business and all of the things that go with it. We had built a life that provided us with a huge amount of control over our family and our time.

When that life faded away, I was left wondering what God’s next plan was for us; for me; for our children.

That day at the HR conference, I felt the solid confirmation that I was meant to be working in a Christian nonprofit. That God had put me in the exact place, for His exact purpose, in this exact time for a reason. I felt profoundly grateful to have a job where I am paid to help carry out His plans and His blessings for our community. Instead of investing my time and talents in growing riches, I want to lavishly invest it in helping people who cannot help themselves. I want to be hope, and light and an answer to someone’s prayer.

This road is not easy.

I don’t have control over my family the way I did before…which means I am learning how to trust God; that He loves my children even more than I do, and He has a unique plan for each of them, that is NOT ALL ABOUT ME, and my dreams for them…

As I drive to work each day in NASCAR traffic; or walk across the parking lot at work and look at the large storage silos of the concrete company across the street, I wonder HOW THE HECK DID I GET TO NASHVILLE, and WHY AM I HERE? I miss the mountains, the dramatic beauty and MY FRIENDS!

I always envisioned myself being at home with my kids while they were growing up…I honestly didn’t expect this plot twist, half way through parenthood…

But I also didn’t expect that half way through my life, my eyes would be opened to the world’s great need in such a dramatic and undeniable way. I feel like I have only seen the smallest glimpse of the amount of true need in this world, and it leaves me breathless. Truly, the harvest is great, but the workers are few.

Matthew 9:37-38 “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.”

My plan is to be one of those workers, wherever God sends me.

 

Faith, Joy, Mom Life

Sowing and Collecting Seeds of Hope

I sprained my ankle in Memphis, which meant my life in Tennessee began with a large black boot on my left foot.

As I hobbled around our house, trying to unpack, I lifted a box of bubble wrapped dinner plates from a box, and was suddenly struck by a searing pain in my lower back that felt like I was being stabbed by a knife. The horrible, guttural scream that erupted from my body brought my family running to my side, one grabbing the stack of plates from my hands, the others trying to move me to the couch.

I spent the next two weeks unable to bend from the waist, down, and resigned myself to weeks of living surrounded by boxes and having my children be my hands and feet.

2017 contained so many truly challenging days.

But then there were the seeds of hope.

Like the checker at Walmart.

With my back out and my black boot on, my family and I navigated the local Walmart to buy groceries for our empty kitchen cupboards. It was the first big shop after our move…the kind where every condiment and spice needs to be purchased. As we stood in line, I suddenly found I just couldn’t stand anymore. I hobbled over to a bench and collapsed down, and I must’ve looked very miserable.

As Rich checked out, he began chatting with the cashier. She told him she moved to Murfreesboro from Australia…that God had randomly given her and her husband a vision of a church in Middle Tennessee. So, they left their comfortable, well-established life, and moved across the world. Within days, they found the church they had envisioned, and were settling into this new calling, and this new life, in Middle Tennessee.

She was working as a checker at Walmart, and said she felt like she was working exactly where God wanted her to be, because it gave her the chance to see so many people.

She looked over at me, and asked Rich, “What’s wrong with your wife?”

He explained that my back had gone out. She looked at her line of waiting customers, looked at me, then said, “I will probably get in trouble for this, but I can’t see a sister in so much pain and not pray for her.”

So, she prayed for me…and though the pain didn’t leave, I suddenly felt so much less alone. I felt seen, and as if someone actually cared.

When does something like that EVER happen at a Walmart?

When I think about it, my life has been speckled with those types of incidents…those seeds of encouragement that got me through.

Like the guy at Dollar Rent A Car who gave Rich and I a ride to a hotel the night our car broke down…he had moved to San Jose from Chicago, and was a Cambodian refugee. His family was brought over from Cambodia in the 1970s, and a church sponsored them, paying their rent, teaching them American customs, and helping them learn a new way of life in a new country. He said he wasn’t really into religion, but he always looked for ways to help people, because of that church, and what they did for his family. He drove us, perfect strangers, from the air terminal to our hotel a few miles away, in his personal car, at the end of his shift. When does that ever happen at an international airport?

On a Proverbs 31 podcast, Founder Lisa Terkheurst talked about her husband, who vowed one Christmas to do something each day to help or encourage someone mentally, physically or emotionally.

I loved that vow because if you do that every day, it means that 365 people will be blessed by the end of a year. That’s 365 people walking around, feeling seen, and valued and loved.

That’s what the Walmart checker did…and the guy from Dollar Car Rental…and many, many more friends and family who have served as little points of light and hope during the many seasons of my life.

There is power in one person’s encouragement.

Sometimes a smile, a prayer, a car ride, or someone who offers to sit with your kids while you order your Chick Fil A…is the little seed of hope you need to get you through.

Faith, Married Life, Mom Life, Work

Surrender: My Life Is Not My Own

“Your life is not your own.”

The first time I heard that statement echoing in my head was in 2015. I had a new baby, two kids I was homeschooling, and I was helping my husband run our small business during the busiest season of its existence.

As I tried to balance working with teaching and running my home, it seemed like my life never stopped. I felt like a circus performer, constantly turning to the next act, keeping the balls spinning, trying to keep everyone happy, and all of the details accounted for.

I felt like I was failing at everything.

As I sat in my home office, looking out the window, wondering how long I’d need to keep this pace, I heard a calm, steady voice say, “Your life is not your own.”

I’d like to say it gave me instant peace; an a-ha moment; a sense of, “Yes! It’s true! Now I can go on living like a crazy woman because I know MY LIFE IS NOT MY OWN!” But that wouldn’t be the truth.

Instead, it made me feel tired. And annoyed.

If pouring myself out for everyone, all of the time was what I was supposed to do…I was tired of doing it.

I mean, I know the Bible says we are to love our neighbors as ourselves; to serve one another in love; and to lay down our lives for one another…but could I just get a few hours to read a book, just for the fun of it?

Women’s magazines tell you about how important it is to make time for yourself; to take care of yourself; to do things for YOU. And I agree…But the fact is that some seasons, if you have to choose between a shower and reading a book, the shower wins. You can give up reading for a few years, but you really can’t give up showering for too long before people start to notice.

When I was done feeling tired and sorry for myself, I felt a sense of surrender. Surrendering to this busy season of life. Surrendering my ambitions and dreams and idea of what life was SUPPOSED to look like, and instead resting in God’s plan.

When I think about all of the things that cause me stress, me wanting to do life MY way, according to MY plans is probably right at the top of the list. My natural inclination is to become frustrated when things don’t work out quickly enough; or if I have to break plans to accommodate a last-minute need; or if life doesn’t stay in the confines of my perfectly laid plans.

But here are some things I’m learning about planning:

– Plans get broken.

– The best-laid plans can lead to disappointment if you hold them too tightly.

– Planning can make you into a control-freak…because when there IS NO PLAN, you have to trust God, and surrender to the fact that His plans for your life may look very different than yours. And then surrender to the fact that His plans are perfect. And are for your good. And…here’s the kicker…they are not all about YOU! You are not in charge of finding the perfect plan…you can leave that up to God, and simply do each day’s work, and enjoy each days’ blessings, as best as you can.

I’m becoming aware of the fact that God is much bigger and active than I realize, and He is working on details in EVERYONE’S life ALL OF THE TIME. In fact, I think the more people you have in your life; the more He will use you to affect change in the community around you.

If you have children in your home…God will write chapters into your life to grow THEM and change their lives…

Which means there will be hardship to grow THEM. There will be challenges to write a new character trait into their lives…or my husband’s life…and inevitably my life, as well.

So, sometimes God might have you move across the country to align your child’s life for their next step.

Sometimes He might write a broken leg into your life, or a trip to the hospital, just so you can meet a mom who really needed a friend just like you.

Sometimes, He might allow relationships to break because you rely on them in a way that only He should be relied upon…

And sometimes, He writes in a vacation where you have time to FINALLY READ A BOOK just for fun!

After the craziness of the last three years, I am fully aware that my life is not my own…it is His. And as I learn to surrender more and more to His plans, I find a new sense of peace and rest, even in the busyness of this season.

Faith, Joy, More Posts, Work

Changing The Landscape Of My Dreams

Life started out with great, big dreams…

When I was a teenager, I dreamt of being an anchor person for the Today Show. A small-town girl, I longed to live in New York City: a place full of nightlife, action and the endless possibility of being “discovered” and made instantly famous.

That dream came to a halt my freshman year in college when I worked at my college TV station. I found myself surrounded by cranky, stressed-out people who agonized to produce a newscast every night at six, only to have to do it again, and again, and again…a never ending production cycle that clearly left my colleagues burned out and bitter. That didn’t look like a fun life.

I switched my dreams from anchoring the Today show to editing one of the major lifestyle magazines I’d read on my childhood coffee table…maybe Women’s Day, or Family Circle, or Good Housekeeping, or Seventeen. That idea led me through the rest of college, and to a summer internship in New York City, where I found myself living my dream: I was in a big city; pursing something I thought would fulfill me; living a life beyond the confines of my small town…and I was shocked to discover, I was horribly, awfully lonely.

I was surrounded by a city of over 8 million people, and I knew no one; my summer roommates had exceptionally bad moral standards; and instead of feeling like I was constantly on the edge of being “discovered” I felt entirely unimportant, unvalued and unseen. Virtually no one made eye contact with me without a dirty look, for an entire summer. That wasn’t a fun life.

So I threw away those dreams, and embraced a new one…

With TV anchoring, living in New York, and working on a major magazine off the list…I decided to pursue quieter things like wilderness and exploration. I aligned my hopes and dreams with those of my boyfriend (now husband) who dreamt of exploring the Great American West.

We found ourselves living in Yosemite Valley for a summer that amazingly extended into three years…and then spent 19 more years in a town just outside the National Park. We owned a business, worked on our own terms (often odd hours, and really, all of the time), and again…we were living our dream.

Our company printed hundreds of thousands of prints and exhibitions for some of the best photographers of our time. Our prints were distributed in The White House, hung in The Smithsonian and many state capitals, and were regarded as being amongst the best in the world. It was a lifestyle that left us, and our staff, stretched thin. It was invigorating and exciting, and increasingly exhausting. In the end, it left us realizing that somehow the fun life we’d pursued had changed into something unrecognizable. We had to let go.

When your dreams fall apart, or aren’t what you imagined…It’s hard to let go.

When the relationships you imagined, turn out to be something altogether different than your heart’s desire…it’s hard to know how to continue.

When you imagine your life going a certain way, by a certain time, and you look up and are living the exact opposite life you envisioned…it’s hard not to despair.

It either makes you give up on dreaming, or it makes you change your idea of dreams.

And that’s what I’ve been working on, these past few years: Changing my concept of dreams. I found myself pondering things like:

What if life is a series of dreams, instead of one great, big, make-it-or-break-it dream?

What if we allow those dreams to be simple steps forward in a hopeful direction?

What if, instead of putting all of our hopes and dreams in the end result, we embrace each hope and inspiration, one at a time and treasure it like that first morning cup of coffee, cradled warmly in our hand?

Can we allow the destination to be something beyond our control?

Can we allow the dream to change along the way, without stamping “failure” on the experience when it doesn’t lead where we hoped it would?

What if my dreams weren’t about my own ambitions, but were focused on who I wanted to be, in my heart…how I wanted to live, in my attitude…how I showed love, in my actions?

What if dreams weren’t anchored in the hallmarks of success…fame, and money, and a big house with a new car…but in being encouragement to other people; offering hope, and truth, and light in a world that is increasingly troubled?

What if I laid down my expectations for life, and other people, and just said…enough already. I’m not okay, you’re not okay…let’s just have some coffee and hang out and laugh in this insanity that is life?

What if I truly allowed God to change my dreams into His dreams for my life, one decision at a time, and decided to be okay with my life being rewritten into something new?

I’ll tell you a few things that happen, when you begin to dream into life this way:

– God begins to rewrite your life for the better. You find yourself doing things you never expected to do, helping people you never envisioned, and feeling surprisingly fulfilled.

– Relationships evolve, becoming richer and deeper as life moves to a more meaningful level.

– The million details of daily life become more profound, as you become more aware of all God is weaving together in your life, and in lives around you, even in the brokenness (and often because of the brokenness).

– Your spirit moves more freely; more peacefully and more hopefully as you anchor your idea of success to simply living each day as best as you can.

– You find yourself really, truly beginning to embrace the life you have, by intentionally filling it with the things that matter.

– You let go of the end-result, and allow the current of life to shift and change your dreams into something new, yet once again.

Phillipians 2:3-4
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
Faith, More Posts

Grace Settles Softly

Grace settles softly,
A cheerful chirp like delight
mixed with my cynical disbelief.
I deserved so much worse;
I was waiting for so much more.

Grace breathes Her life into crushed hopes,
a gentle whisper
at
a
time;

A friendly whiff of encouragement
once, twice, until…
Grace begins to live a life of Her own;
Outside of me,
Yet from me
And I lay myself down
again
to be this
channel of Grace,
This echo of Hope,
one decisive moment
at
a
time.

Susan Seiling, 2018

Faith, Mom Life, Work

How Do You Eat An Elephant?

After 19 years of business ownership, homeschooling two kids, and completely rewriting my life over the past year, I am intimately familiar with being overwhelmed. I know what it’s like to see a full slate of work ahead of me, and realize the only way to get it done, is for me to physically do it. Since I find myself in this situation frequently, I have a great question to pose for my next blog post…and that is:

How do you eat an elephant?

An elephant is an overwhelming circumstance or situation. It’s a series of fires that have begun in your life and orchestrated themselves to simultaneously scorch multiples aspects, often at the same time. It’s when you find yourself completely overwhelmed at your life situation, and at the realization that there is no easy way out…and no matter what path you find to walk along, it’s going to be a long haul.

It’s when my husband was diagnosed with cancer at age 37, when we thought he just had a hernia.

It’s when my son was unexpectedly born with cleft lip and palate…a birth defect that is very fixable, but requires a childhood of surgeries and interventions.

It’s when I found myself driving down our mountain road, knowing that the end of our business was near, with no clear path how to sell it.

It’s when I realized that the only things standing between our life in California and the new life God was calling us to in Tennessee was selling two houses, closing down a business, packing up the contents of the houses, finding a new house in Tennessee, loading our moving trailer, and then actually physically moving our family across the nation…Any one of those things should take several months to accomplish, and they all had to happened at the exact same time.

In the last year or two of our business, I had the same disturbing dream, over and over again. Initially, it caused me great anxiety each time it emerged in my sleep…but by the tenth or eleventh time I had the dream, I had grown so used to it, I’d think, “Oh it’s my stupid anxiety dream again,” even while I slept. The dream had lost its power.

I think there is something similar to navigating the elephants in life. At a certain point, you stop thinking “OH NO! AN ELEPHANT!!!” and instead think, “Ok…there’s the next elephant…here we go, God…”

I’m several elephants into my adult life, and have come up with this step-by-step elephant-eating plan for anyone who finds themselves in similar overwhelming circumstances:

Step One: Size up the elephant. Take a good look at the circumstances and the complete and utter chaos you have found yourself in. It’s nuts, isn’t it? I mean really…who could do well navigating a challenge like THIS one? Allow yourself the freak out moments, because it will lead you to the next step:

Step Two: Acknowledge you can’t eat the elephant alone. It’s going to take other people to help you…and most importantly, it’s going to take God’s help and direction. Other people may tell you to eat the tail first; or the ears…but then you will find God putting your heart into conquering another aspect. Listen to God’s leading. When we moved to Tennessee, I had competing voices in my head (and in my life) telling me to prepare our house to move; do the final paperwork for our business; make sure our children were faring as well as possible, given the chaos; look for a house in Tennessee…the only way I was able to successfully move from point A (California) to point B (Tennessee) was to follow God’s steady voice, one step at a time. This leads me to the next concept:

Step Three: Take one step at a time, and one day at a time. Most of my days are written for me before I even wake up. I know when my kids need to go to school, when I need to go to work; what waits for me at work, and I also know the overwhelming number of things that must fit in alongside these daily realities. When I’m feeling overwhelmed, I ask myself, “What is the very next step I need to take?” And then I do that step. It’s amazing how doing this one thing, over and over again each day, truly does move life’s mountains.

Step Four: Don’t look too far ahead. When you are in an overwhelming circumstance, what you MOST want to know is when it will be over…when you will have some semblance of control over your life again, and can go back to worrying about what you’ll make for dinner, instead of how to pay for the food. When I find myself worrying about the future, or wanting the five or ten-year plan, I take stock of my life at that exact moment: If I am fed, in a warm house, and have clothing on…and so do my children…honestly, everything else is a bonus. The Lord’s prayer doesn’t say, “Give us this day our next ten years’ worth of bread,” but simply “daily bread.” And sometimes remembering His faithfulness with daily bread makes it easier to trust He will continue to provide it as we live out the years ahead.

Step Five: Don’t be afraid of hard work. There was a point in time when I would shy away from a project because it seemed too overwhelming. After years of business ownership, and especially after navigating my past year, I know the power of diligently accomplishing one thing at a time, one day at a time…you can do impossible things by simply rolling up your sleeves, and actually doing the work. Stop thinking about how overwhelming it is…and just DO THE WORK.

Step Six: Don’t fear exhaustion. Exhaustion comes from hard work and intense living. At some point, you will have time to sleep again. If you become too focused on how tired you are, it robs the energy you need to actually navigate through your situation. Accept that exhaustion is a part of life sometimes…and you will survive it.

Still, even with all of this advice, sometimes you just get sick of the elephant. You want it to go away, or disappear, or be replaced by something delicious and decadent and not have to eat more of the STUPID STINKY ELEPHANT…MAKE THE ELEPHANT GO AWAY!!!

That’s when you do the most important thing:

Take a bit of time to take care of yourself. Sleep in. Do something fun, just for the sake of having fun. Go for a walk. Look at the stars. Eat a Blizzard from Dairy Queen. Allow yourself time to dream…sometimes the best way to eat an elephant is to allow yourself time to stop looking at it for awhile, and focus on things that give you joy. It reminds you that eventually the elephant will go away…this too shall pass..and all of that elephant wrestling will leave you stronger, wiser and able to enjoy the sweet things of life even more.

Faith, More Posts, Work

My Next Big Assignment…

The rooms were bursting with donations for the thrift store. The food pantry’s shelves stretched in long lines: a bounty of canned goods, foods, fresh meats and vegetables, diapers and toiletries. People sat, waiting to speak to staff members to discuss their needs. Some wore looks of despair; Others had a sense of calm, knowing they had come to a place that would help.

I walked through the operation, seeing more and more bounty; more and more good; more and more tangible, practical THINGS people needed to live their lives, and it was truly like seeing a storehouse of God. It seemed never ending; ever expanding; and a place full of true, tangible hope…

I think it would have looked different to me, two years ago. Two years ago, need wasn’t fresh in my mind. I had a successful business, and money to pay my bills at home and at work. Two years ago, I couldn’t imagine being in Tennessee, much less looking for a full time job working for someone else.

But that day, on that tour, knowing the state of my pantry at home, compared to the grocery-store-like bounty of the food pantry, I saw personal, tangible gifts from God, ready to be given to the community. I had the sense that I was standing on hallowed ground, and I wanted to be a part of it. It nearly made me cry.

So, I accepted their temporary position and began working in the accounting department, processing donations. It was supposed to be a 1-2 month position, so I continued to look for another job.

A week after I started, I was offered another job in accounts payable at a very large corporation. It was full time, with benefits, and I accepted the position because it seemed like the logical and wise thing to do…but my heart wanted to stay at the ministry.

I was supposed to start the new job on January 8. The paperwork was submitted, the drug test taken (successfully!). Then, on my last day of work at the ministry, my supervisor gave her 2-week notice. She had found another job…and I was offered her position. Of course, I said yes.

That’s how I found my new job as an Accounting and Human Resources manager. It came from a temporary position, through a temp agency who just happened to have a non-profit Christian ministry come on board the day after I applied for a different position with them. The temp agency thought the ministry might be a better match than the original position, for some reason…

My new responsibilities closely resemble many of the jobs I used to do at our small business. And I’m beginning to see a new type of fruit from the struggles of our last 18 months. If we had to close our business, downsize our lives, move across the country, and go through everything else, to put my heart in the right place for this particular assignment…then…Thy will be done…

After 19 years, I felt like I was stagnating in our business, and that I hadn’t learned anything new in a long time. It turns out, I was wrong.

Three years ago, we began working with an online ordering system with a back end that closely mirrors the back end of the ministry’s online donation portal. Last year I figured out how to import everything in that portal into Quickbooks, and I can now give that knowledge to the ministry.

All of the expansive and exhausting work of 2017: selling our brands, and refining our books to present them to the buyer; the job of closing down our corporation, and the huge amount of information and precision that required…it all provided a greater level of knowledge and accountability in my bookkeeping, and a deeper understanding of accounting and QuickBooks, and that is exactly what I needed to take on this new position.

I never wanted to be a bookkeeper. I didn’t go to school for it, and have no formal training in it. But the last thing I did before Christmas break was write a check for someone’s rent. My work helped someone have a home for Christmas this year.

Though I’ve been keeping the books of my small business since 1998, I never realized bookkeeping could fundamentally change someone’s life until I cut that single check.

So I’m happy to embrace this next assignment, knowing it’s not really about me, anyway…

Matthew 25:35-40 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

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