6 Tips for Saving Energy (No Lightbulbs Involved)

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Photo by Chris Li on Unsplash

Think about where you spend your energy in a day. I mean, besides the reasonable concerns—making a living, caring for family, being a decent person—consider the stuff we obsess over in the news and the suspicion whispered by conspiracy theorists and my mom’s friend Margaret.

In the late 90s, when our local grocery store, Bi-Lo, introduced a rewards card, Margaret called frantic. She had heard that, added together, the numbers on the card equaled 666. My mom fumbled for her card and tallied the numbers. Sure enough, the Mark of the Beast appeared beneath her pen like an omen. So there it was: the Anti-Christ would come riding in on the .50 cents savings on deli meat and gas points.

The Anti-Christ would come riding in on .50 cents savings on deli meat.

End-time paranoia aside, there are also unwanted opinions, callow memes from both sides of the political spectrum, discourteous coworkers, rude drivers, comment threads, mommy wars about antivaccination and breastfeeding, incompetent customer service representatives, the vacillating health benefits and hazards of eggs, hidden fees, family members who know better. . . . The point is, we can spend our daily allotment of energy in many places.

Maybe you don’t think of energy in daily allotments. I sure didn’t—at least not before last year.

One evening in January 2018, I was unable to move from my car, depleted by my rants and seething rage about a few people in my life. That night, after months of anger, my limbs felt numb and heavy. In the heaving sobs, I finally realized that I only possess a finite amount of energy—and I’d been throwing it in anemic directions.

I only possess a finite amount of energy

Since then I’ve started looking for ways to cut down on wasteful spending. Maybe you need to do the same.

Here are a few ways to conserve your energy so you can invest it in good places.

  1. Take time before responding. Last week someone left a patronizing response to something I posted on Facebook.  Laura started pounding out a message in my defense.  When it comes to conflict, I’m a big baby. So I begged her, “Please don’t, Pal. If it still matters to you tomorrow at noon, you can post it.”
    But by noon the next day, Laura just said, “Sometimes the best response to a stupid comment is silence.”
    May I recommend the same thing to you. Take a few minutes or hours or days before responding to an email or message or phone call or text. Time often gives perspective and shows us the insignificance of that zinger we had loaded in the chamber.
  2. Keep it to yourself.  We all need trustworthy friends who will listen and guide us when we’re blinded with frustration. But keep in mind that voicing your injustices, anger, and bitterness makes them grow hotter—especially when you put them on repeat. Speaking them into the world gives them air—like blowing on a flame. Scripture reminds us that the tongue is a fire and that “where there is no wood, the fire goes out; and where there is no talebearer, strife ceases” (Proverbs 26:20). Maybe Southern women are onto something when they just shake their heads and say, “Bless their hearts.”
  3. Keep a journal. I’ve found that writing down arguments or injustices or gripes renders them impotent. Something about seeing them on a page, recorded for posterity, puts them into perspective. It also helps me avoid giving them air time (see point two). I often choose not to write something down at all.
  4. Give out grace. Grace is equal parts amazing and crazy, isn’t it? It’s illogical and unfair, a disproportional response to wrong doings and stupid people. But nothing is more godlike than “covering a transgression” with grace. This might mean searching out the motive behind a comment rather than reacting to it. Replying to an argument with kindness and empathy rather than angst. And, yes, ignoring an insignificant comment rather than giving a heated response meant to shame the commenter. Though grace costs us self-righteousness and self-gratification, it’s a whole lot easier on the energy bank account than revenge or reaction.
  5. Focus your energy in productive places. Energy is a resource. It can be thrown away frivolously, or it can be invested in something positive. As with any other resource, it’s ours to steward, to manage wisely. Find good places to invest your energy. Exploring and travel. Art. Reading. Research. Education. Ministry. Volunteering. Meaningful conversations. Silence. Just as there are limitless ways to waste our energy, there are boundless ways to invest it.
  6. Track your energy account. Now that I better understand myself and my tendencies, I monitor my “energy bank account” to track where my ardor is going (e.g., social media, repeating issues that bother me, worrying about something, obsessing over what I can’t change). If I wear myself out with the petty, I won’t have energy for the important. Get in the habit of evaluating everything you do to make sure you get a good return on your investment.

Do you have any other tips for saving energy? Any ideas for great places to invest?

 

 

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More Like Martha: 4 Lessons I Never Heard in Sunday School

 

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We read the biblical story of Mary and Martha like a public service announcement: Mary is good, Martha is bad. Martha is a sour puss, Mary is the guileless saint at Jesus’ feet. Be like Mary, not like Martha. (If you don’t know the story, read it real quick in Luke 10:38–42.)

Martha joins the biblical characters we often paint as unequivocally rotten: doubting Thomas, the prodigal son’s bitter older brother, Ruth’s unfaithful sister-in-law, and Jonah. We view these characters more like object lessons rather than folks who had bad days, made bad choices, behaved poorly, and then pulled themselves together, grew, learned, made better choices, and served God after their story leaves off in Scripture.

What if God intends for us to fill in some of the narrative with what we know about ourselves, others,—and Him?

The wonder of a book so holy and enduring as the Bible is that it features people like you and me. If we can forget the stereotypes and employ a little empathy and imagination, we’ll see how their full stories might have unfolded, and we might learn something new about how Christ can change us. (1)

For instance, the much maligned Martha has taught me some lessons I never heard in Sunday school.

1. Have hard conversations 

Like Martha, I would have been the one bustling around, fussing, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her to help me.” But let’s be honest, I wouldn’t have mouthed off to the Messiah. Allowing my frustration to fester is more my game.

Ironically, I’m much more like Sarah. She also was busy serving when she overheard Jesus tell Abraham that she would have a son in her old age. Hearing the startling pronouncement, she giggled a bit under her breath. But when Jesus addressed her response, she denied it. “I did not laugh!”

But not Martha. No, Martha would fly at you with her complaint or judgment or, I imagine, anything else.

I read a quote recently that said,

“A person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.”

Difficult conversations make me queasy. Whether I’m concerned about hurting someone’s feelings, upsetting a relationship, enduring the backlash of a response, or facing my own shortcomings, I don’t like bringing up hard topics. I’d rather lie or endure than face a problem head on.

But I’m learning, like Martha, to speak up when I’m hurt or concerned, to tell the truth when someone needs to hear it, to apologize when I’ve offended someone, to ask people hard questions. And that includes God. It’s surprisingly difficult to tell some things to a God who already knows everything. Admitting my failures or needs, talking to Him about the repressed issues that haunt me or the topics I don’t understand—my candor and questions don’t rile or rattle Him. And His response will always be exactly what I need to hear to help me grow closer to Him and others.

2. Christ speaks to us differently.

“Martha, Martha.”

I like to think that Jesus’ repetition of Martha’s name is less a scold than a comfort. Maybe Jesus isn’t telling her to hang up her soup ladle, let the bread burn, and take a knee. I think He is pulling her out of her flurry before validating her concern by acknowledging all that she had to do. (“You are cumbered about by many things.”) And then he gently tells Martha to mind her own business and reminds her of the most important thing: Himself.

After Lazarus dies, while Mary grieves at home, Martha runs to meet Jesus and expresses her confidence in his ability to have healed Lazarus—if only He had shown up on time. This time, Jesus calms her by having her repeat what she believes about His power and divinity.

When Mary comes out to greet Jesus, she says almost the same thing Martha had said about Jesus’ tardiness, and she weeps. But unlike His conversation with Martha, Jesus doesn’t talk Mary out of her grief or make her recall the finer points of her faith.

Instead, He simply weeps with her.

Jesus responded to Mary and Martha differently because, as the Bible says, He loved them. And though He is the same righteous God to all, He speaks to us in the specific ways that will best reach us.

His Word is universal and unique to each of us, powerful and personal, sharp as a sword and sweet as a whisper to our soul.

3. Making time for the “necessary things” is an intentional act.

That first time Martha served Jesus, I wonder if she was trying to make the Pinterest-perfect feast when she could have called out for pita delivery. Maybe she was seeking praise or trying to uphold her reputation rather than sacrificing to spend time with Jesus. Scripture says she was distracted, but I also wonder if she wasn’t jealous of Mary’s choice to embrace “the good part”—sitting at Jesus’ feet.

We always know what’s more important, don’t we?

Even if we choose not to act on it or value it, we know it sure enough. That unheeded knowledge often manifests itself in discontentment in our lives or jealousy of others. Caught up in our busyness, we look at someone else that seems lavished with time to sit and reflect or pray or read Scripture, and we say, “Must be nice. . . .”

All the while, we sabotage ourselves by choosing too many unnecessary distractions.

When I’ve heard this passage preached or taught, I’ve always felt indignant for Martha. Was she supposed to not feed these people? Was she supposed to let the pot boil over while she sat listening to Jesus? After all, there are many necessary things to do besides the most necessary thing: worship.

But I think this passage teaches us, among other things, the need to prepare to have time for the necessary things. Adjusting our schedule. Saying no to some things. Cutting back on some things. Doubling up on others. It’s an intentional act.

Perhaps we should ask, How can we simplify our lives to gain more time for the necessary things? What can we sacrifice? Maybe we can give up sleep by waking up earlier. Decorate less and buy fewer gifts at Christmas to focus on Christ’s birth. Whip up a smaller Sunday dinner to focus on rest and worship.

Jesus promises that when we sacrifice to spend time with Him, what we gain in His presence will not be taken away from us. It’s ours to keep, and we won’t regret it.

4. Worship doesn’t always look like sitting at Jesus’ feet.

The final time we hear about Martha is when Jesus has stopped back by their house six days before Passover. The verse simply says, “And Martha served” (John 12:2). She sets out the dates and bread and pours the wine, all while Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with oil. The exceptional part of this account is that Martha doesn’t say a word!

As the aroma of incense wafted into the kitchen area, I imagine Martha slowed down to breathe in the sweetness, and then she carried on.

Perhaps her service had become an act of worship rather than a mere distraction.

I always heard that Martha’s story is a warning against busyness, but maybe it’s more a reminder about attitude and motivation in whatever we’re doing.

We often make the mistake of thinking that the dull motions of our routine cannot be part of our worship. We wait around for the perfect worship ambiance instead of praying while we chop the veggies or praising while we fold the clothes or listening to Scripture while we’re driving to work or meditating on God’s promises while we’re putting on our makeup.

I think by the end of her story, Martha accepted that she wasn’t the type of person to break a box of perfume over Jesus’ feet—but she could make the best meal and serve it to the Master as an act of worship. Because sometimes worship looks like sitting still at Jesus’ feet—but sometimes it looks like what you’re doing right now.

As you’re reading Scripture, meditate on the characters, on Christ’s response to the characters, and how that encounter might have changed the character’s life beyond what you read in the account. Which biblical characters do you most identify with and what have they taught you?

 

 

. . . . . . . . . . .

1. I loved the new perspective on Zacchaeus in Cole Smith’s Grace and Such blog post “Timely Obstacles.”

2. I found this article several months ago and appreciated the different view of Martha, “Martha, You Don’t Have to Be Mary.”

7 Ways to Recharge When Your Soul Is Tired

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Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

“He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.” Psalm 121:2

In the Sunday school classes of my childhood, teachers, wearing lavender sweaters and too much lipstick, told us with breathy wonder, “God neeeever sleeps.” It sounded like an interesting fact God might whip out at getting-to-know-you events: in addition to creating the world, walking on water, and making dead men live, he also never needs shut eye.

As a kid, I liked knowing someone had his eye on things when mine were closed at night. But it was also cool knowing that this omnipotent insomniac didn’t have to go to bed—that he could stay up to hear what the grownups chat about after hours.

Recently, what had once been this cool fact about God from my childhood turned like a coin with a grand flip side when I realized God doesn’t sleep not merely because he doesn’t have to, but because he doesn’t need to. He is immune to the fatigue that often gets the better of us.

I’m hardly God. As an adult, I’d take back every nap I refused as a child, every night of sleep I resisted. As I toss and turn in my bed, I crave that deep sleep of a child. I’m tired now, and more than that, I’m weary.

I once read a quote that said,

“Sleep doesn’t help if it’s your soul that’s tired.”

I’m there.

When I see the news, when I read about the most recent act of inhumanity, when I hear about the struggles of my family and friends, my spirit bows like a pine branch in an ice storm. The world is too wide to embrace, too broken to mend. I absorb the pain and sadness, allowing it to saturate my soul until each new problem is just that—another layer atop my branch.

I recently learned the term compassion fatigue. This is an emotional condition “characterized by a gradual lessening of compassion over time” because of overexposure to others’ suffering. It especially affects people in “helper” occupations such as nursing or child protection services or law enforcement or teaching. You might recognize it in yourself, especially if you’re prone to heightened empathy or anxiety.

Many sources agree on the best cure for compassion fatigue: self-care.

I noticed this buzzword creeping up a few years ago in self-help books and TED talks. At first I thought it smacked of whitewashed, bald-faced selfishness. And besides that, what exactly does self-care look like? A eucalyptus bubble bath? A long walk? A chai latte?

But the more I’ve thought about it, the more sense it makes. In fact God endorses rest. Think about it: after six days of nonstop creation, God created rest and spent the entire day indulging in that creation. He didn’t need to, but he chose to set an example for us. He calls us to rest, not only for our benefit but also for the benefit of others. You can’t light a way if you’re burnt out.

I’m not sure it’s enough to pamper yourself though. Seems like it will take something more substantial than merely focusing on treating ourselves to cure ourselves. So on the days when you’re finding it hard to cope with or perhaps even care about all the bad news, here are a few practices that might go a little farther in helping you care for your soul so you can continue caring for others.

1. Turn off the bad news. Take a break from monitoring the world on Facebook and news sites. The trouble will still be there when you get back. Just look away for a while. (Read more about how to unplug from the news addiction in “Lessons from a News Addict.”) 

2. Focus on beautiful things. This world is broken and broken good. But there is still beauty left in the cracks. Refill yourself with whatever replenishes your mind, body, and spirit. So, yes, perhaps that means a latte, a book of poetry, a walk through a garden or art museum, or some quiet time sitting in a park. When Laura and I traveled to Santa Fe in January, we found a classical station in our rental car and listened to it the entire time we drove through the snow-covered mountains and through the winding backroads to Taos. It was so calming and peaceful, I haven’t stopped listening to it now that I’m back home. It has become my beautiful thing to focus on—even in subzero temperatures. Stay connected to what makes you feel most human and what keeps you in touch with God’s majesty.

3. Read about other people who are making a difference. When you can find it, gravitate toward the good news of people stepping into the chaos to bring order and relief. As Mr. Rogers’ mother said, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” It can calm you to know you aren’t alone and the people suffering aren’t alone, and it can give you courage or inspiration to act. If you can’t find such stories in the news, listen to inspiring biographies like the one I’m listening to right now, The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers.

4. Remember your place in all this. You are not merely on this planet as an extra in a tragedy. You have a role to play. Find that purpose or passion and cling to it, knowing that this world needs a “you” in it. God put you here for a reason. Each morning is a chance to discover anew what that purpose is.

5. Go headlong into the trouble. We very often only listen to the bad news, but don’t get involved in solving it. Helping others helps you to not feel so overwhelmed (unless you are overwhelmed from already helping so many people, in which case, this point might not be for you.) Learning to see the humanity within the tragedy can help us refuel and look past all the smoke to the real issue: people.

Volunteer at a clinic or shelter or hospital. If you can’t volunteer, donate your money or supplies. If you wince when you see those SPCA ads on TV, volunteer at an animal shelter. Angry about the abortion bill that was passed? Call up a local women’s shelter and ask what they need. Horrified by a natural disaster? The Red Cross can help you know where to donate or volunteer. Check out the State Farm Neighborhood of Good website to find ways to help in your area.

This year, Laura and I volunteered to mentor middle school girls in the public school. To be honest, it doesn’t feel like I’m shattering any worlds or healing them. But every time I walk into the school to play a game or chat with the girls or watch them try cartwheels, I remind myself that I’m not responsible for the significance of the outcome of my service. I’m only responsible to do something. And doing something—anything—always trumps shaking your head and sharing a meme or even quoting a Bible verse with fervor.

6. Remain in a state of prayer. No one in history could have understood compassion fatigue better than Jesus. He carried within him the knowledge of every affliction, discouragement, abuse, sadness, tragedy, and sin of every person who would ever live. But rather than recoil from those burdens, he invited more when he offered, “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Elsewhere in Scripture, we are commanded, “Cast all your care upon him” (I Peter 5:7) and “Pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17).

Prayer won’t take away all the sorrows in the world, but it will keep us close to the one who promises to work things for our good and his glory. Prayer also takes the control out of our hands and places it in God’s.

7. Focus on what is coming. Here’s the kicker. God is not only immune to our weariness, but he is also the antidote to it. He promises to give joy for sorrow and strength for weariness. Christ has promised to bring justice in eternity, to relieve our suffering, to reward our good works done for him, and to fulfill our hope. I love the lyrics to the old gospel song “When We All Get to Heaven”: When traveling days are over, not a shadow not a sigh.

The Apostle Paul summed it up in a more eloquent way:

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18)

How You View the Glass

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Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Guest Post by Jessica Eshleman

Perspective. Everyone has one, yet each person views life differently. While some have a “glass half empty” perspective, others have a “glass half full” perspective. It all depends on your take on life. For some, a new job or “big break” highlights the best moments of their life, and from that perspective, life is momentarily grand. For others, a major loss or harsh comment at work determines their perspective for that day, resulting in sad and hopeless feelings. Some have a five-year plan and certain goals to hit by certain ages, while others are just trying to make it one day at a time. No matter what each of us is going through, we all have a perspective—a point of view.

For the most part, I view myself as a “glass half full” kind of person.

I’m not saying that I don’t have the occasional moments of crying on the floor in a fetal position, but for the most part I take trials as they come and try to find the little blessing or sliver of hope to each situation.

Perspective, I believe, is the determining point of each decision we make in life. How we view a situation plays a big part in how we respond. For example, in my own life, I had a rough childhood. Although I don’t remember a whole lot about it (that’s probably a good thing), I was born into a family that had major problems with addiction to alcohol and drugs. Without going into a lot of details, at the age of seven, I was taken away and placed in foster care. It’s hard to grasp the situation until you’re in the same boat, but it was rough. Going from house to house and wondering how long you were going to be staying there or if you would be even a little bit happy with these strangers put a strain on my perspective.

It would have been easy to adapt to the “glass half empty” perspective and be in constant despair because of the things I had to go through. Were it not for the grace of God and His plan for me, I would probably be headed down a completely different road. I often wonder how different my perspective on life could have been if I’d had a “glass half empty” perspective. I’m so glad that I didn’t.

Having a “glass half full” perspective isn’t always easy.

Having this kind of perspective is a determined choice. It’s easy to see the bad things or situations that happen in life and focus on the letdowns and hurtful parts. It’s a conscious decision to see past the unexpected or discouraging events that take place. Sometimes I fail and focus on what’s wrong in the situation or how it’s not going to work out, but then I’m reminded how it could be worse and how I should appreciate the lessons learned from the hardships in life.

It’s a challenge, but a challenge I hope you are willing to accept.

 

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

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Jessica Eshleman
is a freelance writer who works at Cracker Barrel by day and teaches college English by night. She studied Creative Writing at Bob Jones University and loves sharing her passion for English with others. Most of all, she is newly married and loves sharing her adventures with her amazing husband (who just happens to be my youngest brother, Joey).

The Greatest Gift in This Wonderful Life

It's a Wonderful Life

Guest Post by Kaitlyn Iocco

“Now, just remember that this thing isn’t as black as it appears.”

My dear friend spoke these much-needed words of encouragement to me on a day when the world felt like it was crashing down on me. I had spent my lunch break, well, having a breakdown in my car. My husband, Ben, and I were producing and directing a musical version of It’s a Wonderful Life, and I had just found out about a terrible mix-up with our venue, which would doubtless result in having to cancel two of our performances. Seeing no light at the end of the tunnel, I felt momentarily hopeless and, like George Bailey must have felt when Uncle Billy lost the $8,000, totally blindsided.

Looking back now over the past few months, I suppose I felt a lot like George throughout the production process of the show. We experienced equal parts blessing and hardship: from big issues, like the venue confusion, to small interruptions, like costume rentals not being ready until literally the last minute—super stressful interruptions for someone like me who likes to have all her ducks in a row with time to spare. There were lots of good times, but there were also times when I thought, Why? If our purpose as a theatre company is to do good, why would God allow bad things to happen in return?

When we look at George Bailey’s life, we see someone who chose to do the right thing again and again, and each time was practically punished for it. When he rescues his brother Harry from the icy water, George loses his hearing in one ear. When he prevents Mr. Gower the druggist from poisoning the pills, he is beaten. When there’s a run on the bank, he and Mary give up their hard-earned money and honeymoon to rescue the Building and Loan.

But, also like George Bailey, “we came through the thing all right.” I prayed so hard that God would redeem the problem with the venue. I didn’t know if He would do that by reversing the situation or showing us some other solution. For a short while, part of me was half expecting to check my email and see a message from the venue saying the issue was “magically” solved and we could continue with our Sunday performances after all. But that didn’t happen, and while we had to go through the trouble of performance cancellations, refunds, and rescheduling, we moved on.

This is not to say that the entire production process was a disaster. On the contrary: while some things didn’t work out, lots of things did, and by the end of the show, in It’s a Wonderful Life fashion, I stood backstage with my husband, our cast, and crew before our closing performance, feeling enveloped by love and friendship. The hardships we faced had actually brought us all closer as a community. As people from the cast and crew shared what the story of It’s a Wonderful Life means to them personally and what they had each learned and gained by working with our theatre company, I felt overwhelmed and humbled by God’s goodness. Life can be hard at times, but God is faithful. He gave us the gift of friendship and community.

It seems like human nature to do good and expect to receive good in return. When we do the right thing or go out of our way to do something nice for someone, we expect to receive a pat on the back, a reward, a return on our investment. But perhaps the blessings that we do receive don’t always come wrapped in a beautiful package and tied with a bow. Sometimes we have to go through difficult times to realize how blessed we truly are.

Standing backstage with the cast, crew, and production team, I saw the lasting impact of everyone’s hard work on the production. Of course, I hoped that our audiences also walked away inspired and changed, but what I saw in front of me backstage was how I experienced firsthand the lasting impact of so many people uniting to be a part of something bigger than themselves. The shining faces I saw, the stories I heard of lives changed, and the hugs I received humbled and encouraged me. I thought, This is what it’s all about.

What is success? How do we define it? From George Bailey, Clarence, and the citizens of Bedford Falls, I have learned that, when it comes down to it, life is about relationships. This is a biblical principle; the first and second greatest commandments given to us by Jesus are to love God and love others. This means putting others before ourselves, loving sacrificially and unconditionally, and never giving up on love, no matter what life throws our way. Even when bad things happen and we are not met with good for the good we do, we can look around us and be reminded, “No man is a failure who has friends.”

As we celebrate the birth of the Savior and gather with friends and family this Christmas, may we open our hearts and homes and remember that while life’s greatest blessings might come in unexpected packages, they are the gifts that keep on giving.

 

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

Kaitlyn IoccoKaitlyn Iocco is a social media associate and holds a BA in English and BFA in performance. A theatre lover and the author of her great-grandfather’s biography, The Lord Is Not Through With Me Yet, Kaitlyn is passionate about storytelling. She and her husband, Ben, were married in 2016 and together lead Merit Theatre Company. They live in Burlington, KY, in a cozy little cabin with their cat, Pearl.

Winter in My Cry

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Photo by Ethan Weil on Unsplash

I cried nearly every day last winter.

The gas heat in our new apartment wrapped each room like a fleece blanket, unlike my last apartment that left me and my little dog, Dudley, shivering, and the curtains quivering in the draft sneaking through the window cracks.

But even with the comfort of this new apartment, the cold and snow of the Northern winter bore down on my Southern-girl spirit. Winter, to me, is not holidays and warm fires and cheer; it is discomfort and danger, inconvenience and depression at every turn.

The weather chipped away at me each morning as I chiseled at another layer of ice on my windshield. It hung over me like a sigh every time I parted the blind slats to see a white-coated parking lot. It whitened my knuckles as I drove the unplowed backroads to work.

To get through another frigid day, I promised myself last winter, “I’m going to move back South!” Knowing full well I couldn’t keep that promise, I cried almost every day.

Mid-winter, on a bone-chilling trip outside, Dudley searched for a place to squat while I made a promise to God, a promise I determined to keep. Even the voice inside my head chattered as I vowed, When summer comes, I won’t complain about the heat. No matter how humid or hot it gets, there won’t ever be heard a discouraging word from me.

I kept that promise this summer. Even when my hand stung from the searing door handle or when my shirt stuck to my body on a Labor Day hike, I said a praise for the heat against the coming wind and chill, feeling even then a touch of heaviness knowing winter will soon return.

_________

I started a new job recently, taking the next step in my life which, turns out, felt a bit like stepping off a cliff. It’s harder in more ways than I’d expected. To cope, sometimes I promise myself, “I’m going to move on before next year.” Full well I know that no job will be without frustration. All this discomfort and stress has happened before, and it will all happen again no matter where I go.

Sitting in a frustrating meeting recently, I clenched my pencil in anxiety over all I don’t know yet about this position and the complications of dealing with difficult situations.

Less like a rope to pull me out and more like a rock with a message tied to it, a thought dropped in the pit of my mind: What are you putting your hope in? What is it that you really need here? Not deliverance from a hard thing but patience to deal with it. Endurance to learn the process. Willingness to face with excellence whatever is put before you, no matter how mundane or uninteresting. What is God doing right here in this meeting that you need to get before the next season of life rolls around?

_________

Last month I stepped outside into the first real fall morning that we had enjoyed so far. Fall has been my favorite season since I was very young, bundled in a lavender jacket, making acorn stew in my backyard. Still, feeling those first tendrils of coolness touching my nose and ears, I groaned inside. Winter’s coming—and too soon.

I feel like the geese in Rachel Lyman Field’s poem, “Something Told the Wild Geese.”

Something told the wild geese
It was time to go,
Though the fields lay golden
Something whispered, “snow. . . .”

All the sagging orchards
Steamed with amber spice,
But each wild breast stiffened
At remembered ice.

Something told the wild geese
It was time to fly,
Summer sun was on their wings,
Winter in their cry.

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Last winter I made the promise to be thankful for the discomfort of hot, humid days. But now, with the return of frosted windshields and jacket buttons, I’m fitful and disgruntled, and something more—convicted.

Ecclesiastes says, “To everything there is a season.” But it never said the seasons wouldn’t return and linger. The Changer of seasons, in both the weather and my life, thinks it’s good for me to shiver just as He thinks it’s good for me to shimmer with sweat. He also thinks it’s good for me to do it over and over again.

In every season, can I find my “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow” not in the circumstances of the season but in the great faithfulness of the God who never changes? And can I be thankful for what each season brings? Thankful for numb fingers while anticipating my sun-tinged shoulders? Reveling in pool days while looking with peace toward icy patches?

Winter, like the harder times of my life, makes me face my weakness, drives me to seek relief, and sends me crying out to God for strength.

In every season, perhaps it pleases God to hear winter in my cry.

Made-to-Order Hospitality

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Guest Post by Laura Allnutt

Food is a universal language. What and how and with whom we eat are unwritten essays on our personalities, cultures, and emotional psychology. It’s a language so easy to speak that we often use it as a replacement for actual words, as a buffer between family togetherness and family tension. Rather than I’m sorry for what I said last week, here’s a bag of your favorite chocolates. Instead of Let’s talk about it, let’s order a pizza and scroll through Netflix.

Food is a safe space where humans of all backgrounds, preferences, religions, achievements, and politics can unite and enjoy the common experience of filling their bellies to stay alive another day and avoid the conflicts another moment—until the food becomes the conflict.

I am among the estimated 15 million Americans with food allergies. My stomach likes food far less than my mouth does. I have a taste for almost every food I’ve ever tried, and I used to never pass the chance to try something new. But as I became more and more tied to the bathroom, I knew something had to give, so I began what has been a three-year process of elimination diets and a blood test to figure out which foods my stomach doesn’t like. Here’s the shortlist of offensive foods: corn, nightshades (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and eggplant), garlic, red meat, some nuts, dairy, and gluten. The nightshades cause me the most trouble, second only to corn, which is my mortal enemy. The other foods are tolerable in moderation and only if my stomach has had several good days in a row.

My stomach likes food far less than my mouth does.

There is nothing I hate more than being invited out to dinner or, worse, invited to someone else’s house. Consider how many meals involve some form of tomatoes alone. There’s hardly a recipe for chicken that doesn’t invite paprika or other peppers. Potato and corn starch are in just about every baked good, even gluten-free and vegan varieties. And let’s face it: if you cut open Americans, they bleed waffle fries and corn syrup.

I don’t like telling people that I have food allergies. No one likes to be the oddball, the person who requires special exceptions, the one who adds a layer of inconvenience. But here I am. To make matters more complicated, Sarah and I decided to cut processed sugar from our diet, a lifestyle change that segued into the Keto Diet.

Recently, Sarah and I joined a Small Group at our church. When we arrived at the house, our friendly hosts led us to the kitchen where awaited a countertop of cakes, cookies, chips, sodas, and, off to the side, a tray of vegetables that looked as uncomfortable to be there as I was.

Sarah selected a few chips and a thin slice of bunt cake. I grabbed a bottle of water.

I sat in the far corner and hoped no one noticed my lack of food, because food is personal. To reject the food is to reject the person behind the food.

To reject the food is to reject the person behind the food

It doesn’t help that we live in a culture of fad dieters, vegans, and so-called health nuts. Culture mocks these people rather than acknowledging its sick obsession with food or cheering for those brave enough to choose a healthier lifestyle.

Fifteen million Americans is a lot, and that number doesn’t include the 1 million vegans, 1.6 million vegetarians, 30 million diabetics, and 45 million other dieters with food limitations. Altogether, people with food restrictions make up roughly one third of the total US population. This statistic means that one out of every three people you know likely has a food restriction.

I’m somewhat limited in foods, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy food. I even consider myself a foodie. Sometimes, learning to cook new things or cook old things a new way is an exhilarating challenge! Over the past few years, I’ve learned that food restrictions don’t have to restrict hospitality and companionship.

Here are ways to maintain togetherness regardless of food restrictions:

  1. If you have food restrictions, tell your friends and family. Most people will be glad you told them. Otherwise, they’ll perceive you as snubbing their food offerings or possibly starving yourself. They’ll also feel terrible for serving you food that might cause you suffering. A cranky nurse once left my arm with black-and-blue bruises after she jammed a needle around the crease of my elbow to draw blood. Because she labeled the vials wrong, I had to go back the next day to have more blood drawn. A different and much kinder nurse did the job, and when she saw my bruises, she cupped my chin in her strong hand and said, “You don’t let nobody hurt you. It’s your body, and you got to walk around with it.” I’ve carried her words for several years now, and I’ve since applied them to my inward and outward health. Though I hate to make things awkward, I have to tell others what I can’t eat. It’s my stomach, and I’ve got to walk around with it.
  2. If you don’t have food restrictions, start the habit of asking your guests if they have food allergies or restrictions—even if you’ve known those people for years. You’ll be surprised at how many people have kept their dietary needs private.
  3. Don’t avoid group gatherings because you have food restriction, and don’t stop inviting your friends with food restrictions to those gatherings. Isolation and segregation solve nothing and aggravate everything.
  4. Keep in mind that some people have much more serious allergies than others. I have a friend with severe allergies to shellfish, so much so that she can’t be in a room where shellfish oils might go airborne during the cooking process. Respond to each case appropriately. You may need to plan a different meal entirely if you’re the host, or you may need to politely decline the invitation if you’re the guest. In either case, don’t neglect to invite the friend with allergies or at least explain how you can’t invite them, and if you’re the one with allergies, be sure to explain why you can’t come rather than just saying no. Practice honesty, consideration, and tact to preserve relationships.
  5. Learn new recipes. Recently when a coworker invited us over, we were relieved when she asked us if we had dietary needs. For two weeks she wrote back and forth as she planned her menu around my dietary needs. “I like a good challenge!” she said. Her joy over cooking for a complicated person put me at ease—and the food was great! Cooking outside the box is fun and creative and sometimes stressful and annoying, but it’s worth it.

Sometimes, on my especially bad days, I feel sorry for myself because I can’t eat like a normal person, can’t just grab a pepperoni pizza or a sandwich and fries from Chick-fil-A. I grouse through the grocery store, thinking of the mashed potatoes I can’t eat for Thanksgiving and the Chinese carry-out I can’t eat on Friday nights. But this thinking is toxic and misses the point about food entirely. Food is not about the things we eat but about whom we eat with. It’s about the company, not the carbs. As long as we’re together, life is a feast.

 

laura.jpgLaura Allnutt is my best friend, apartment-mate, fellow writer, and dearest inspiration. She holds an MFA in fiction from Fairfield University and has recently finished writing her first novel. She works as an online teacher and editor and enjoys being adventurous in the kitchen. Learn more about her in just about any of my posts, and follow her blog Thinking With My Mind Full.