What is Portable?

Most of us are in slightly less than normal circumstances right now – to put it mildly.  My heart goes out to those living in small apartments in big cities that are on strict lockdown.  I’m an introvert and can fill long hours with my own entertainment, but to be caged up day after day would even get on this bookworm’s nerves.  And what about the families that are suddenly thrown together to try and do work, life, and school all at the same time – while wondering what is going to happen to the economy and their paychecks? 

So much can change in our external circumstances that can have a huge impact on our quality of life – in reality and in our perception.  What can we do to strengthen ourselves against the emotional destabilizing that can happen as a result of that?  

In my last blog, I shared about identifying and savoring our anchor truths.  These anchor truths take the form of well-traveled neurological pathways that ground us to the facets of the nature of God that we connect to most deeply. 

In this blog, I want to explore the concept of the things in life that are portable.  Things that are not dependent on outside circumstances, not people, or the economy, or leaders, or governments or anything.  When much of life is uncertain and stressful, it gives us some emotional fortitude and stability to focus on the things that are untouched and unchanged.   Wherever you go or in whatever circumstances you find yourself, what do you have? 

An Intervening God
Whether you have served the Lord for three months or three decades, you will have experienced some degree of His intervention, else you wouldn’t be following Him.  That proof of His attention to your life goes with you everywhere.  Take a moment to look for the patterns.  He is so eager to show Himself to us, that I don’t think it takes years of relationship to develop patterns we can identify.  We just don’t take the time to do it.  Yet, He does intervene, over and over again, personally, intimately, and THAT goes with us anywhere. 

Your Identity
The circumstances of the world you live in can throw you into a whirlpool of crazy.  Maybe you are so limited and so bogged down, even oppressed, and very little of your design can be expressed.  I agree that your life circumstances CAN limit the expression of design, but it CANNOT negate the existence of it.  You are who you are, whether you can ever lift a finger to show the world.  So, you are thrown off balance right now, you are in a milieu that forces you to do whatever everyone else needs instead of doing what you like.  Instead of focusing on what isn’t, celebrate what IS, and always will be.  God’s fingerprints on your DNA are unchangeable.  What do you know about how He has wired you?  What can you savor with Him, even if it is put on the back shelf for now?   

Your Journey
Friends, ain’t NOBODY gonna take this away from you!  You have lived some portion of your life already.  There have been ups and downs, good days and bad days, good choices and bad ones.  Those experiences are yours – whether you are at the pinnacle of all that is good or the depths of despair.  Look at what you have gained.  Take the time to identify your resources.  What fruits of the Spirit has God worked in you?  Where have you developed character?  What spiritual and/or moral authority have you gained?  What is the experiential wisdom that lives inside of you?  The treasures of your journey are immeasurable and utterly impervious to the changing environment.  You could lose all you own, even your loved ones, and all that you have gained through your journey would still be yours.  In fact, I’m willing to bet there are some of those resources that will stand you in good stead right now!

The emotional imprint of memories is one of the strongest ties to the continuum of our lives.  Over and over again, God admonished the Israelites to remember.  It was so important to Him that He instituted feasts and ceremonies to keep the generations connected to His interaction with them.  Our memories serve as both a reminder and as a doorway into the emotional reservoirs that can revive us. Someone recently shared a story about pioneering families that had to survive long periods of absolute isolation during the bleakest weeks of winter.  We think we have it bad now!  And the impact on the emotional sanity of the families varied.  Those who fared the best were the ones who combined memory with imagination and would set aside an evening just to talk through all the process of having the Smiths over for dinner.  That exercise helped anchor them in the present by revisiting memories of the past, and it gave them an exercise for their mind.  Both of those things helped keep them emotionally stable during the long winter season.  Not every situation has that predictable an end, of course, but I think that we can use our memories in a variety of ways to help sustain us in the present – not to escape it, but to augment it and to keep our minds from being locked into too small of a grid. 

Our Thought Patterns
This is one that I think is particularly worth examining because it cuts both ways.  If we have established healthy and wise thought patterns in the times leading up to the challenging season, they will serve us well.  The world can go all kinds of wonky and the way we think remains stable, and quite portable.  If we have nurtured unhealthy, weak, or unwise thought patterns, well, they will follow us too, and the results won’t be anywhere near as nice.  So, what ARE your thought patterns?  Look first on the positive side.  What has God built in you?  Ponder how you thought about things ten years ago and how you think about them now.  Do you see some positive changes?  One of the big ones for me was a conversation I had with Arthur many years ago.  He had a rough day, and was spending the last hour before quitting time entering data into a spreadsheet.  I asked him why he was doing that when someone else could easily do it.  He explained to me that when he couldn’t achieve a $100 day, he was going to get at least $1 out of it.  In other words, he knew the day hadn’t gone the way he would’ve liked.  He didn’t get the $100 day.  But there was still SOMETHING he could leverage, and he did.  That changed my whole way of thinking.  Just because you didn’t hit the bull’s eye doesn’t mean you can’t make progress somewhere.  Such a wise strategy against powerlessness and defeat.    

Once you have identified and savored some of the positive thought patterns, take a look in the direction of the kinds that are not so very helpful in life.  Can you see any?  Perhaps you need to ask the Lord to shine His light and reveal them, since our own way of thinking is often too close to recognize.  One that He recently revealed to me was some prejudices I didn’t even know I had. I was shocked and horrified.  That set me on an intense and very productive journey to understand instead of judge, and to see the value where I can, even if I don’t share all the same views. 

These are just a few examples of things that are portable, I am sure there are many others.  I think that this is a golden opportunity to investigate, learn, and grow, because, hey!  We’re in the middle of it and have no idea when it will end. 

I am a big believer in making pain productive!

A decade ago I went to a firearm training course in the desert outside Las Vegas.  For three days I walked around with a pistol on my hip, as if it was perfectly natural to do so.  We alternated between teaching sessions and target practice.  And one of the concepts I remember well is that in the heat of the moment, you lose at least half of what your conscious mind knows.  If you do not practice enough to commit the skills to the subconscious, you will be at a severe disadvantage in an emergency.  Those neurological pathways have to be so well used you can access them in your sleep – which is exactly what you might have to do if your house gets broken into. 

More recently I had this concept demonstrated to me in the emotional realm. No house breaking or burglars, but my failure “in the moment” left me floundering. I was in an emotional meltdown after a massive inner healing discovery and just about to leave on an international trip.  I was flailing around for some part of God to hang on to.  It was in that moment that I realized it was too late to build my emotional superhighway.  I could think of many things I knew about Him, but couldn’t articulate a single anchor TO Him. 

I was totally rocked by that.  I had an emotional connection with God.  I experienced His intervention many times and in many ways.  But no path was wide enough or well-traveled enough to take me there without conscious effort.  I had never articulated and savored and pondered the things that anchored me most deeply to Him.  I failed miserably in the moment.    

I did make it home in one piece, but I tell you what, I did a whole lot of thinking while I was there AND when I got back.  I wanted a road that was so well traveled that I could find it even if I was blind, deaf, delirious and half dead.

I began with design.  I think that at least one, if not more, of our anchor truths come from the way we are wired.  Those are deep and so profoundly congruent that we may not even recognize them at first.  I started by looking for things that were so baked in that I had no choice but believe them.  Foundationally, for me, that is God as Creator.  I could believe untrue things about His nature before I could believe we came from a ball of primordial slime.  I just can’t go there. I think I would have believed in a Supreme Intelligence, even if I was a heathen.  But that was still too vague.  What about God as Creator gives me emotional grounding in hard times? 

So, I drilled it down to another facet of design.  Time.  The Ancient of Days.  The God who was and is and is to come.  My four favorite words in the Bible: “In the beginning, God”. El Olam.  The Everlasting God.     

Now THAT I can hold on to.  I can find security and stability in the emotional connection to this truth about God.  It’s a huge piece of solid ground when everything else is shaking loose.   And it comes from a deep, deep place in me. 

But that is grand and abstract and not very personal.  It gives me emotional stability about how God relates to the universe, but not so much to me individually.  So, I went back to my design again.

I think that the sense of emotional grounding is going to vary depending on what matters to you.  And this is where we have to differentiate between design and woundedness.  I discovered that knowing He is present mattered immensely to me.  And so, the passages in Psalm 139 give me language for just how comprehensive that “not aloneness” really is.  Even before Jesus paid the price of agonizing separation from the Father, David knew the reality that there was nowhere he could go that God wasn’t.  I may suffer all manner of evils here on earth.  I am not asking Him to spare me from that.  But in the midst of whatever comes, I will find great comfort in knowing there is no depth of the darkest sea that can block His entrance.  Even if He doesn’t speak to me, I can believe He is there. 

But design is not the only grid for articulating our anchor truths.  Our experiences are also an important grid.  Where and how has God shown Himself over and over again to us, proving some facet of His nature and His intimate knowledge of who we are? 

This is a topic worth revisiting from time to time – preferably NOT in the moment of pressure!  But we are here, now, in a challenging season, and some of us have more time on our hands than we usually do.  Is this an opportunity God is giving us to recognize where we are lacking our anchor truths?  Have we even thought about them before?  What emotional pathways already exist at a deep, primal level, and we’ve never put language to them? What can we do to widen the ones that already exist?  I am pondering and looking.   

Blind, deaf, delirious, or half dead – I want to KNOW where those pathways are!

Seas and Islands

“With my mother’s death all settled happiness, all that was tranquil and reliable, disappeared from my life.  There was to be much fun, many pleasures, many stabs of Joy; but no more of the old security.  It was all sea and islands now; the great continent had sunk like Atlantis.”  – CS Lewis

Though I hope that none of us have recently experienced the death of our mothers, I think we may still relate to the impact the event had on Lewis.  For many years I identified with the description of hopping from one tiny island of emotional stability to another, with a whole lot of turbulent floundering in-between.   This season of life, with the myriad implications of Coronavirus, has given us ample opportunity to discover just how emotionally grounded we may or may not be. 

Most – if not all – of us have never experienced a scenario that impacts so many facets of our lives.  It’s not just staying out of the malls and restaurants, the kids are home too.  It’s not just disinfectant and hand sanitizers, it’s concern over whether you will have a job.  It’s not just cancelled appointments and travel plans, it’s not knowing if a loved one will get sick and possibly die.  And on top of all of that, we have no idea when any of this will become normal again, or if it ever will. 

There is a line from “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” that has stuck with me.  It is towards the end of the movie when they have gotten to the grail site.  Donovan shoots Jones’ dad as an incentive for Jones to get the grail and its healing properties.  He says to Jones, “It’s time to ask yourself what you believe.”  No time for theories now.  His dad’s life was on the line.  He either believed in it or he didn’t. 

Times like these can reveal to us what we really believe.  What condition our emotions are really in.  Where our legitimacy really lies.  How much we can really trust and not be driven mad by not knowing.     

Some of the initial shock of the epidemic is wearing off, but we still have a lot of uncertainty ahead of us.  And prolonged uncertainty can eat away at us like a canker.   With that in mind, I decided I would revisit some tools and strategies God has given me over the years to help make my islands a lot bigger than they used to be.  As I go along, I would like to share some of those tools and processes with you, as sort of an ongoing dialog.  Perhaps they will land somewhere for you too, or you know someone who could benefit from them.  Be free to share with anyone you wish. 

By doing so, we can leverage some of the current challenges into value for God and the Kingdom.  The more grounded and stable we are, the more available our resources are to Him because they are not all used up trying to keep our heads above water. 

So, over the coming weeks I will post a blog every few days with something else to explore … until I run out of things to say or we have all reached sheer emotional perfection.   

Well, we can at least start.  ;D)    

Beginning Again

My Mom stayed for another week after we took Philip to live with Sam, and we put in a whole new front garden.  It was intentionally timed to be a productive distraction for me, and it did give me something new to build and to nurture.  But now it was two or three weeks down the road and I was adjusting to life without Philip.  Predictably, I had mixed feelings about it, but my vacuum cleaner threw a party. 

One afternoon I was doing dishes and looked out the kitchen window to see a male Cardinal that had landed on my bird feeder.  I have feeders in the front and back, and there is hardly a window in the house where you can’t see one or the other.  I stopped for a minute and just enjoyed watching him.  As I did, a familiar joy filled my heart and I heard these words “you know; you still are a bird lady”.

With those words came a flood of emotions, as I suddenly realized what I was doing to myself.  In the midst of the decision making process with Philip, I wrestled with a sense of failure.  And since he had been one of the big investments in the birdy part of my design, I felt like something left when he did.  I daresay he did take a piece of my heart with him, but not my design.  That was still intact. 

I was still a bird lady. 

For many years now, I have recognized the importance of identifying the good of our experiences and allowing that good to carry through into the present, instead of shutting the door on the memories and emotions.  I care about it so much that I wrote a book on it.  But this was a new angle on the topic.  It wasn’t a traumatic experience where I needed to find the value in the midst of the pain and accept its role in the whole of my life.

What I saw is how we create emotional attachments to facets of our identity, and those attachments are associated with someone or something.  Philip was associated with the birdy part of my design.  When the environment changes – when someone leaves or dies or the event ends – we set aside the identity because of the attachment we created.  I will probably never interact with birds now without having Philip in the back of my mind.  But that doesn’t mean that my design for birds has been damaged or lost.  It is a matter of how I chose to process it.  Will I forfeit that element of my design or calling in order to avoid the pain?  Or will I bury the emotions and pretend they don’t exist so that they can pop up at the most inopportune time?  Or, will I intentionally face the emotions, process the journey, and embrace the continuity of design? 

I have made an attempt at doing the third.  To face the emotions, to process the journey, and to embrace AND celebrate the continuity of design.  That is what these blogs have been about.  My process. Letting the emotions flow. I cried when I wrote most of them.  Celebrating and savoring the good of the journey, what I learned, what I gained, and how I changed in the midst of it.  I have been looking for ways in which God unpacked my design, and the fact that it is an existing treasure, ready to be used.     

God and I still meet often on the playing field of birds.  I was recently at a friend’s house who lives on a farm with acres of woods behind them.  We were walking on her property when I heard what I thought was a Pileated Woodpecker in the tree nearby.  Without even thinking, I (kinda rudely) stopped in the middle of our conversation and bounded off to see if it really was.  As he flew off, I waved and gave him my greeting, and my whole insides were grinning from the God hug. 

I am still a bird lady. 

My season with Philip has ended, but it is the end of one and the beginning of the next, because I am still the same person God designed from the foundation of the earth.  In the new season, I don’t have a parrot, but He will find new and different ways to continue the growth.  I know there is a calling to nature, and God knows exactly how to position me to develop it. Our lives are a continuum, with the threads of essence, calling, and the faithful parenting of God running through every season.  May you recognize and celebrate every treasure that has come from one end into the next beginning of your life. 

Thank you for walking this part of the path with me.

Along Came Sam

I walked up to the counter at the vet where I boarded Philip.  The place had a good vibe.  They had a Timnah Grey named Wilbur who lived in the waiting area, and of course, I had to practice my bird whisperer on him.  The staff always seemed happy about what they were doing, and most importantly, they loved the animals.  This was the place I found on my first scouting trip to South Carolina. Philip had already stayed there a couple of times and was quite the entertainer.  One of the technicians sent me a text of Philip and her having a barking contest.

I was there to pick him up from the first of two closely scheduled trips.  He would be home for a couple of days and then back again.  I chatted with the receptionist as we did the necessary paperwork and payment, and within a few minutes another technician brought Philip out in his travel cage.  She commented that he did well, ate most of his food, splattered the rest around the room, and they all loved him, especially a young man named Sam (for this blog). 

It didn’t really register until I got out to the car that someone who works at a vet clinic also really likes Philip.   

I had already begun the challenging process of figuring out how to find him a new home.  It’s not easy with a parrot.  At a foundational level, I believe that all pets deserve someone who will take good care of them; even a lizard who doesn’t care who on earth gives him crickets, as long as someone does.  But with many of our pets, the nature of the owner and whether they care about that particular animal also matters.  Those variables are multiplied ten times over with a parrot.  So far, the best option was an organization that takes your parrot and then puts prospective owners through a variety of tests to see if they are well suited for that bird.  The organization had a good reputation, but it was hard to imagine not knowing who would have Philip in the end.  I had toyed with the idea of putting out an ad to see if I could screen a prospective owner myself. 

In the meantime, I went on my second trip and Philip went back to the vet for another couple of days of boarding. 

This time, when I returned to pick up Philip, it was Sam who brought him out in his travel cage.  His face was all happy and he commented that he had gotten Philip to step on to his hand. Not only did I get to see who Sam was, I got to see the joy on his face. 

This time it sunk in before I got to the car. 

Someone who works at a vet, who obviously loves animals because you don’t get rich doing that, is clearly comfortable with birds and has access to all kinds of wisdom and resources, also loves Philip.  And Philip was responding.    

That weekend, I wrote an e-mail to the clinic.  I shared that I couldn’t keep Philip and I wondered if they knew anyone … and more specifically, would Sam be interested in adopting Philip? 

I was in the Target parking lot a couple of days later when my cell phone rang.  It was a local number that I didn’t recognize, but I answered it.  I had expected to get an e-mail from the vet, so I was taken off guard when the voice said it was Sam. 

He said they would be happy to adopt Philip. 

He said that between himself, his Mom, and his sister, who because of some physical challenges was at home most of the time, Philip would have lots of company.  They were quite flexible in terms of timing, and had the space to take everything that I could send with him.  I did ask a few other important questions, too.  But the overarching emotional reaction was how right it felt.  There was excitement in his voice and I could tell that he cared about Philip.    

I hung up the phone and sat in the car for a few minutes.  There are moments that are best described as bittersweet.  That was one of them. 

As I pondered it more and saw how exquisitely God had prepared for this transition, how He led me to that vet, and positioned Sam there before I ever knew I would need him, and had him working on the days when Philip was boarding, the overwhelming emotion was wonderment.  And I don’t mean the light and airy wonderment, I mean more like that heavy, sobbing, “how is it that You care this much about what happens to my bird?” kind of wonderment.  For reasons that He only knows because He made me, this is a point of vulnerability where His caring about something so seemingly insignificant in the grand scheme of things does a very tidy job of wrecking me. 

Well, things were moving forward and I had a lot of work to do.  Self-imposed, of course.  I was going to finish well.  Super well.  Ok, fine.  Obsessively well.  I admit it.  I bought stock in his favorite toys and foods and put together lists that were complete with links so Sam could easily find the stuff that Philip liked, and even one that showed how he liked his boingy swing hung up.  Yes, and all the things he said and what they meant.  I also had Philip go to board two more times before the final hand-off, so that he could get to know Sam even better.    

I had planned it out about a month and a half from the time that we talked.  Part of that was to give more boarding opportunities, and part of it was to coordinate with my Mom.  I decided that it would be wise to have someone to distract me for a few days and since she had already walked through the process with me, she was the perfect choice.

Finally, the day came. Mom and I spent the morning cleaning and packing up Philip’s things.  Over that month and a half I had many conversations with Philip about what was going on and how he could respond, and we had a final one that day.   

We arrived at Sam’s place to be greeted by him, his sister, his Mom and their two dogs.  I figured that Philip would have the dogs whipped into shape in no time.  His Mom immediately asked me to come over to the counter where she had a few fresh things already purchased and wanted to know if he would like it.  They were all so excited. 

I have developed a pretty decent poker face.  I can keep my mind in task mode and not think about what is going on inside.  I did pretty well until right at the end when my Mom asked if she could pray.  That was more than I could take.  Mom and I were both leaking at that point, so we got ourselves out the door and back into the truck as quickly as possible.

Over the next few days, I communicated with Sam a couple of times.  I asked how Philip was doing and the reports came back good.  I wanted to know that he was making the transition, but I also knew I needed to let him go.

But one day, several weeks later, I was struggling.  I really wanted to know that Philip was ok.  I missed him, but if he was ok, then I could at least know that.  Of course, there was always the chance that he wasn’t ok … but I decided I would write Sam one last time. 

His text came back immediately.  Philip was doing great.  He was out of his cage most of the time.  They were taking him on outings to the park and PetSmart, IN HIS HARNESS.  Ok, I bought that harness with good intentions and never even tried it.  I looked at it, then at Philip, and then my fingers, and decided to throw it back in the box.  Sam got it on him?!  And that wasn’t all.  Sam was also (relatively) successfully giving Philip baths, something else I had never achieved.  He would endure a misting, but that was about it. 

He was more than ok.  He was thriving.   

And in that moment, I felt the almost crushing sense of intimacy as God reminded me that He had taken care of Philip.  Undone again. 

Was that whole experience about a new depth of intimacy with God? 

The story wasn’t over yet.