Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Lesson from a Bumblebee

With my dad’s health situation, my husband Jim and I have been traveling back and forth to be with Dad and to take care of the things he cannot take care of himself. Our own jobs and household affairs still need attention. If I begin to think about all the decisions to be made and all the things that I either want or need to do, I get overwhelmed.

This morning I watched as a bumblebee worked over the morning glory vines in our yard (one of the projects I had hoped to complete was curbing the growth of these vines that have covered our hydrangeas). The bumblebee went from flower to flower, one at a time, very methodically. He didn’t seem to be overwhelmed at the number of flowers, nor did he seem to be in any sort of hurry. He didn’t even try to enter every flower.

As I watched him work, I was reminded that I can only do one thing at a time, that not everything that presents itself to me needs my attention, and that taking my time is necessary to doing things well and also to my own well-being.

A friend at work, who has dealt with her own health issues and those of family members, gave me some good advice yesterday. She said that some things just need to be put on a shelf mentally, to be dealt with at a later time. Just as that bumblebee cannot work on every flower at the same time, neither can I handle all the things that compete for my attention at one time. I have to decide what to address and what needs to go on that mental shelf for later. Some of those items on the shelf will end up being done eventually, and some really don’t need to be done at all. I may not be in a position to make such decisions now, but if I continue to focus on only one thing at a time, I will be in a better mindset to make a good decision when a decision needs to be made.

Taking time to focus on only one thing at a time is how I was even able to notice the bumblebee this morning. Maybe it’s a good thing that eliminating the morning glory vines is a project that has gone on the shelf. Without them, I would have missed the lesson the bumblebee showed me.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Signs of Life

My dad has aggressive stage 4 cancer. Last week he was admitted to the hospital near where he lives, and my husband Jim and I made the 4-5 hour drive to be with him. My mom died several years ago and I’m an only child, so the responsibility for hard decisions falls solely on me. Fortunately, my dad had shared his wishes with me a long time ago, and I have been able to make decisions about treatment in accordance with his wishes.

For some time now, I have tried to practice twenty minutes a day of centering prayer. Between hospital activity, tending to things at Dad’s house, and finding a skilled nursing facility for him to go to upon leaving the hospital, I found it difficult to settle into a mode of centering prayer last week, and when I tried, there were many thoughts swirling around in my head.

What I did discover, however, were centering moments every day. A predawn cup of coffee on Dad’s porch while listening to owls hoot, two fawns chasing each other in a field as we drove to the hospital, deer at Dad’s house crunching acorns, sunset over the lake, breakfast entertainment of a baby squirrel and its mother, two turkeys crossing the road as we returned to Dad’s house from the hospital at dusk, and the thinnest sliver of a moon hanging in the sky on the evening of the day we settled him into a nursing facility.

These signs of life remind me of the eternal presence of God even in the midst of difficult circumstances. They help me remain centered in the flurry of medical personnel, visiting family and friends, and decisions to be made. I am grateful for them and rejoice in the gift that they are to me.

Life is always changing, but times like this draw our attention to that reality more acutely. In joys, sorrows or sameness, God is present, if I will only pay attention to the signs of life around me.  As I continue to walk this path with my dad, I am grateful for signposts that remind me that the journey doesn’t end in defeat but in victory.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Burden of Effectiveness

For much of my working life, I sought to be effective. I read The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People more than once and sought to employ those habits in my own life. They are good habits and I still have the book, unlike many of the books I’ve read over the years. Effectiveness gets things done, and as Stephen Covey pointed out in the book, effectiveness is about getting the right things done. I have observed that many people equate busyness with effectiveness. We tend to value people based on how busy they are. Movers and shakers are approved, while sitters and thinkers are often overlooked.

We need to learn to value waiting, watching and listening. These may appear to be ineffective, especially when the mantra of our society is “don’t just stand there, do something.” But waiting, watching and listening allow us to dig beneath the surface of people and issues, to learn to understand both ourselves and others. These habits cause us to slow down and pay attention, which is not an easy behavior for many of us in our hurry-hurry existence.

Effectiveness becomes a burden when we try to apply it to our relationship with God and with others. Jesus wasn’t about effectiveness. As a group of us discussed healing in Sunday school, one person wondered why Jesus did not heal every leper, wiping out all the leper colonies. That this question was raised shows me that Jesus focused more on relationships than on productivity or effectiveness. He waited, watched and listened. He acted, but he did it within the context of relationship. He talked to people and listened to them. He observed the bent-over woman among all the people coming and going in the Temple (Luke 13:11-13). He felt healing power leave him as a woman in a crowd touched the hem of his robe (Matthew9:20-22). He heard Bartimaeus calling to him even though everyone lining the roadside was cheering for him (Mark 10:46-52).

And after his death, he did not immediately send the apostles out to continue his ministry. He told them to wait. That doesn’t seem very effective. We talk about building on momentum, and certainly Jesus’ resurrection, his appearances to the apostles and others, and his ascension would have been momentum boosters. But Jesus tells them to wait in Jerusalem until they are given heavenly power.

I expect they were motivated and itching to do something. We catch a glimpse of that when Peter decides to go fishing (John 21:3). Jesus shows them the importance of waiting, watching and listening one last time, for even though he modeled such behavior for them in his life on earth, they were not always quick to catch on.

We need to let go of the burden of effectiveness and realize that building relationships with God, with others and even with ourselves is how we learn to love God, love others and love ourselves. Relationships are not built by effectiveness but by paying attention—waiting, watching and listening—so that our action is a loving response, not just “doing something.”

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Creation, Destruction and Discipleship

It is always easier to destroy things than to create them. Creativity always takes longer than destruction.

I heard these comments in a workshop I attended recently. I thought about the implications of this observation and how we, as a culture, put so much emphasis on productivity. Creativity seems to me to be at the opposite end of the spectrum from productivity. Maybe that is why we tend to be destructive—to ourselves and to others. It is what is rewarded, because productivity is more akin to destruction than to creation.

Think about what it takes to bring a baby to birth. It’s a nine month process just to get a baby to the point where it can live outside its mother’s womb. It is even longer before the baby grows up enough to be able to take care of its own needs. While creation arguably takes more than the nine months prior to birth, death can happen instantly.

Because creation takes time, it also requires patience. But in our culture, we want instant, and instant means that creation may not get the time and attention needed to take root and flourish.

This is true with discipleship. In the early church, those who wanted to be baptized and join the church went through a season of preparation, usually during Lent. That time of preparation gave time for a person to learn about God and themselves, and to recognize that they were only beginning a faith journey. Baptism was not the end of the journey, but only the beginning.

Contrast that with the way many of us view baptism and church membership today. It’s an instant process, consumer oriented, and often seen as the end rather than the commencement of a lifelong journey of discipleship. As a result, some in the church think that discipleship is defined as membership and nothing more.
When church is something we consume rather than the place where we learn to pour out our lives in sacrifice, then the level of commitment to a church family is low. If you can’t consume what you like, you leave and go where your “needs” are met. I read somewhere that church is the one place where you learn to work and live with folks different from you. That’s one way of learning discipleship. Learning to forgive, to be patient, to put others ahead of self, to give, to be accountable, to be humble—these are all lessons learned best with those who are different than us. It is when each of us rubs each other’s raw and sharp edges that we learn discipleship.

In a sense, there is destruction involved in creation. The old must die for the new to be born. The consumer mentality must die for the sacrificial mentality of discipleship to be born. Just as we see the pattern of death and resurrection in Jesus, we also must live into that same cycle of death and resurrection if we are to grow as disciples.