“It is awfully hard to be brave, when you're only a Very Small Animal.”
- A. A. Milne (from Winnie-The-Pooh)
In these shifting sands, I often feel like a Very Small Animal, just one pinpoint among the many, many stars. The reality is that dreams shift and shatter, and yellow-brick roads sometimes lead to dead ends. Sometimes life is a quick drop, a sudden stop. And what do we do? We can look up into the blue sky and wonder who is watching. We can glance over our shoulders to see if anybody saw when we fell down and skinned our knees. We can wipe away that glimmer of a tear because there just isn’t time right now. We can yell at the shoulda, coulda, woulda’s.
There are different types of fear. We fear letting people down, failing, falling, and basically appearing foolish or incompetent. Basically, we fear the unknown. It’s a survival instinct. Here’s one important lesson to realize: humans, inherently, are not psychic. Humans are limited in that way.
The good news is that the unknown is not a monster. The unknown simply doesn’t exist. The unknown is your projection of a possibility. It’s not fact, it’s not verifiable, and it’s probably not even what may occur.
Projection avoids the present. Appreciating the present eliminates fear. Let’s walk through it step by step.
I have always liked the movie Elizabethtown. It is the story of a man, Drew Baylor, whose great invention at a shoe company craters and he is fired; while he rigs a contraption to commit suicide, his sister calls to inform him that his father had a heart attack and died. Yeah, yeah, it sounds sad, whatever. This is the platform from which he falls, however, and the audience takes the journey with him, through facing failure and its wretched aftermath, new love, and fresh beginnings.
“You have five minutes to wallow in the delicious misery,” Claire Colburn says in a note to Drew. “Enjoy it, embrace it, discard ... and proceed. Sadness is easier because it's surrender. I say, make time to dance alone with one hand waving free.”
We see Drew dancing under some shade trees after scattering some of his dad’s ashes along the road. He cries.
You can dance and cry at the same time.
It’s about glorying in the moment rather than expecting a projected triumph.
At one point, Claire says to Drew, “We are intrepid. We carry on.”
Regardless of what we hope for, project, or dare, what IS exists. And it’s stunning.
Call it a web, a journey, a path, or a plotline, humans navigate this earth and their time on it. The more difficult the landscape, the more you see of your true self. Amid the bouquet of options, I can see yesterday’s selfish flippancy, the materialistic cravings, the immature belief. I can see yesterday’s shaking flesh, the whimpering muscles. But I can also see how these challenges, these opportunities, they work like a sieve. Through the emptying out, an instigation of firmness builds within; as the complaining sifts out like powdery flour, a more solid hand steadies a tangible faith.
Not so long ago, God breathed out life upon the universe. He pieced together billions of people with billions of opportunities to thrive in a life greater.
The God who made us has us here to learn more about his security. He is secure, he is able. He is intrepid. As a believer in him, he resides within me, therefore I am secure, I am able, I am intrepid. There’s no better place for me than where I am right now. There’s no better place for you, either. You’re in this time and space with me, and we can reflect on the delightful present of our reality.
You breathe air.
You blink with bright eyes.
Your senses ignite, your hope flares, and you are now more awake to the possibilities of freedom — the possibilities of life, beautiful, perfect, as it is, right here, right now. How do you feel without expectations for what should be, and is not? How do you feel knowing that the story you’ve been beating yourself up for does not exist, nor should it? ‘Should’ does not exist. How does it feel to accept that the slow car in front of you is supposed to be slow? How does it feel to accept that you have the opportunity to wipe gum off your shoe in front of your child? How does it feel to receive the incorrect order at the drive-thru, and know that this is the moment for which you’ve been preparing? You get right now to be your best self. You get this one moment to drop your pride, speak with humility, and act in kindness.
You get right now to choose how to act.
Three kinds of business exist: Your business, My business, and God’s business. Your gift is this one reality to mind your business. You don’t have to mind mine or God’s. You can’t mind God’s business. (Seriously, would you want to? No thanks.) That’s why it’s his. He gets to deal with the stars, the natural disasters, and the mass of humanity as a whole.
“David also said to Solomon his son, ‘Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you’” (1 Chronicles 28:20).
See, God IS minding his business, which includes us. He won’t stop. He will never leave or fail us — he’s with us, he’s within us, he’s around us. So we’re secure on that end. Be strong, be courageous, do the work. I manage my business. You manage your business. And we rockin’ it. We magnificent.
Intrepid means ‘fearless and bold.’ Plucky. Dauntless. Resolute. We are intrepid. We carry on. It’s our business. And remember, you got yours, I got mine! We manage the events as they piece together before us. We have nothing to fear. We have nothing to complain about. Don’t assume some other scenario than what you currently have could be better. This one moment is the best option. (Spiders and all!)
Small animals? Maybe our bodies are small creatures compared to the stars. On any ordinary day, are our souls woven into the Spirit of the King of Kings, the Creator, the manager of the stars? Yes. Able to do the work? Yes. Dancing with one hand flying free? Oh, my dear, yes.
More on this coming soon. <3
Crucible: a situation of severe trial, or in which different elements interact, leading to the creation of something new (Merriam-Webster.com). What’s your crucible? Are you there?
My kids and I dove into a Bible story the other day, where God rescued his people from Pharaoh’s impending doom. He’d rescued them from slavery in Egypt, and Pharaoh allowed them to leave captivity. The people left, headed home, facing days and nights in the hot desert, following a pillar of fire toward the unknown. They ended up on the sands of the Red Sea, a body of water flowing for miles in both directions. And then Pharaoh and his 600 men and their raging chariots raced to recapture them. The Israelites freaked out then, as I think most of us would. They projected their fear, they cried, they whined. And God replied, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground” (Exodus 14:15-16). Essentially, God told Moses to tell the Israelites they couldn’t go over it. They couldn’t go under it. They couldn’t go around it. They had to go through it. And to stop whining.
Just like the classic picture book of “We’re Going On A Bear Hunt,” the adventurers had to face a challenge bigger than they understood.
You, oh incredible wayfarer, will face challenges bigger than yourself and bigger than you understand. It’s the plight of mankind. It’s your job. Don’t ask, “Why isn’t this easier?” Ask instead, “How can this make me better?”
The good thing about these challenges is that they make us into our best selves. Challenges aren’t just part of the story; they’re the story.
1) Challenges show us God’s bigness.
On this tiny planet, as this one tiny soul, I often don’t see the big picture. I’m one puzzle piece, you’re one puzzle piece, and sometimes we lose sight of the whole puzzle and all it entails. But God’s there, with this big love for us. In the fire, beside the wide sea, and under the grinding weight of the mortar’s pestle, God stands right there in the middle of the crucible beside you, with the strength, grace, and power to go on. He’s an endless source of strength, and he offers it to his people. In these challenges, we get a mere glimpse of how he can fuel us.
2) Challenges teach us gratitude.
“My struggles are my own unique manifestations designed specifically to give me the opportunities to love and accept myself fully” (Jill Coleman). Seeing a challenge, obstacle, or hardship as an opportunity to raise a hand in gratitude teaches stability. Accepting challenge as a chance to love is part of why we’re here. The apostle Paul mentored his friend Timothy with these words, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Being grateful in adversity proves faith. How much faith do you have? How grateful are you for the rain? How grateful are you for the wall you just hit? Are you grateful for who you are so that you can be in this place and time to face this challenge? Are you ready?
Practicing intentional gratitude exhibits a willingness to level up.
3) Challenges make us stronger.
“In the days of the sailing vessels, this is the way they chose a tree to make a mast: They did not go to some sheltered place where the trees were protected from the elements. They went up into the mountains where the soil was thin and rocky. They found a tree that had been buffeted by the storms and beaten by the winter winds. That tree, that hardened tree, they cut down for the mast of their ship. So suffering hardens and strengthens us” (Robert Shannon).
In being a wife and mom, I’ve found strength to be a power. Maybe that sounds silly, but I feel like there’s still a big train of thought out there than women should be soft and weak. And I’ve never been able to be that. I love lifting heavy weights and pushing limits, because when I lift those heavy weights, life feels simple and free (and super sweaty hot). I love the feeling of picking up my twenty-pound weights and not struggling to do so. I love being able to do interval sprints and not pass out dead on the ground. I love that with a consistent daily grind over the years, I’ve built up my strength in a tangible way that I can see for myself and nobody can take it away from me or deny it. I love that now the effort has proved itself. In the beginning of trying heavier weights in my work outs, I couldn’t hardly finish a twenty-minute workout, the fifteen-pounders made me just about fall flat on my face (maybe they did one time), and the idea of ‘sprints’ was absolutely laughable.
But now. Now I know that trying harder challenges means I win. If one of my kids ever needs to be carried? I can carry her. If I need to help someone carry something? I can help. If someone else cries out, frustrated, saying “I can’t do it,” well then I CAN say, “Yes, you can.” Because strength manifests itself. People are drawn to it. People want to overcome. People want to be the mast of the ship, carrying their people home. Or, at least I do. I bet you do, too. And I’m excited about tomorrow’s opportunity to try again.
Are you grateful for the workout?
4) Challenges teach us courage.
Being that mast on that ship? Where will it take you? Oh my friend, it carries you into the vast unknown. With each challenge you face, with each fear you mow down, you build up a portfolio of proven records. It all builds up.
Never once did the authors of the Bible instruct or show the necessity of fear and letting it win. No, in fact, the Bible displays the opposite. “For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). God made you powerful. God made you loving. God installed within you a sound mind. He dwells within you, and you are worthy to take on this challenge. Maybe you just needed to hear that. Very often, the things you fear are the paths you need to take in order to be your best self.
5) Challenges offer us a life greater.
“You’ve got to try this new show!” “You’ve got to get this soap!” “You’ve got to visit Venice; it’s beautiful!” In this context, a friend will probably be recommending something to you because that friend cares, with enthusiasm.
You’ve got to take on this challenge, because on the other side awaits a life greater. You’ve got to do these hard things, so that you see the beauty in the madness. Don’t miss this opportunity for greatness. Don’t miss these steps, small or scary as they seem. “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
What’s your best life? Being in God’s will. What’s God’s will? For you to intentionally live a life grateful for the challenges he presents to you. No better path exists than the intentionally joyful path. You’ve got no reason to be sad or to complain or to give up. When you hit a wall, look up. Look around. Celebrate what IS, because it’s a glorious adventure.
There is only the journey toward God’s heart. And this journey is a life greater.
Risk: Catch a lightning bug in a jar! (or any bug if you can’t find a lightning bug) Use chalk and draw on the patio. Draw a lifesize Tic Tac Toe board and use toys as the pieces to play.
Reality: There’s some guy in your life who’s the daddy to your littles. What’s your favorite thing about him? What’s your least favorite thing about him? Say a prayer for that thing specifically. Ask God to help you have patience with those good and bad things. If you would like, write a note or text or even tell him in person that thing you appreciate most about him. If you’re struggling with that relationship, write down the heart of the trouble of that frustration, and find a Bible verse that will encourage you to face it with hope, grace, and peace.
Encouragement For The Day:
God entrusted Nehemiah with the task of rebuilding a crazy huge wall. Nehemiah was just this ordinary guy, with two eyes and a brain, and a passion for his heritage. The task presented itself to him, and Nehemiah said, well, uh, okay. Sometimes, that’s how heroes deal with things. Actually, that is precisely what heroes do to deal with things. Situations present themselves and that unsuspecting hero must decide how to react. Choose to react like the hero. Say a prayer for strength, and then do those hard but awesome things. Nehemiah prayed, “For now, my God, strengthen me” (Nehemiah 6:9B). He knew the power that God would equip him with, especially in those hard moments of starting this monumental project of building a wall around a city. By hand. In the sun. Without electricity. Or coffee.
For now, my God, strengthen me.
And they rocked that wall-building.
You will have many challenges today. For both our sakes I hope we don’t have to build walls, and by all means let’s try to build relationships that transcend walls, amiright? Capture the hearts of those around you and spread peace. Share joy. Share light. Share love. Instill hope in your life and those around you.
Peace, joy, light, hope, these can be some of the most challenging tasks to complete. If you’re a human like me, then every day brings up a new round in the boxing ring. But we’ve got instructions to overcome those. David wrote in Psalm 34, “Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and try to maintain it.” The Message version says, “Embrace peace—don’t let it get away!”
If you have a challenging person in your life, or actually if you have any people in your life, then you’ll find peace barging out the door more often that you’d like. Don’t let peace get away. The best way to get peace back into your house is to pray that God will help you see the good in each heart around. This is a hard task; but God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, love, and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7). You can create peace in your home. This doesn’t always mean there will be a home-cooked pie on the counter, crisp clean sheets on the bed, and nary a speck of dust on the shelves. (Does that ever happen? Can I come over if this is your house?) But peace dwells in the homes where people seek God’s heart and his hope first. Peace reigns where hearts produce hope and offer first a helping hand instead of a hardened fist.
Start building peace by cleaning out those dark spaces. Unload those boxes of regret and hurt, empty them out in prayer to your Creator, and he will help repaint the walls. First God. Then answers. Write down one of these verses we’ve discussed today and place it by a mirror. Make those first reactions ones of patience. Be the superhero your plotline needs. And you’ll have the strength to build the walls layered with hope and packed with heart.
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