A Bad Case of “This Ain’t What I Thought it was Gonna Be!”

This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Deuteronomy 30:19-20

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Sometimes my optimism really annoys me.  I tend to go into things expecting them to be 100% wonderful…or at the very least, function like they should.  And then, when they aren’t and don’t, I stand bewildered, then frustrated, my sense of justice and rightness raring up indignantly.  The cynics point and laugh and say, “You’re kind of an idiot, you know.  What were you thinking?”

Well, I was thinking the best of everyone and everything.  It’s my default, and it means I get disappointed a lot…

Take my job, for example.  I had wanted to work at my current place of employment since I first moved to Alaska in 2014.  I believe in their mission and thought it would be a great chance to impact young people’s lives.  The opportunity came in May 2018, but even getting the job was an odyssey.  I applied and never heard anything, but the position stayed open.  So I called and was told I didn’t qualify, which made no sense.  I had clearly heard the Lord tell me that was where he wanted me, but it seemed to dead-end.  And then one day in August, a friend told me the company was holding a job fair, so I showed up with a couple of copies of my resume.  I was the only person who attended that day, and they could see that I had applied but couldn’t find my resume anywhere on the recruiting site.  They couldn’t imagine why I was told I didn’t qualify.  They interviewed me the next week and offered me the job.

Yay!  Or so I thought, until I understood the maelstrom I had walked into and was now ostensibly in charge of:

  1.  My department’s office moved from Anchorage to the Valley in June.
  2. The entire team quit.
  3. They left behind over 300 files that hadn’t been touched, some since February.
  4. All of my subordinates’ positions were filled before I was hired.
  5. They never got much training.
  6. I never got much training.
  7. Because we were scrambling to deal with the files, I had no time to build team relationships.  I was on cleanup duty for a mess I didn’t make, and there was an expectation that we’d all produce as fast as possible.  The human element didn’t seem to matter to the higher-ups, and we didn’t gel as a team from the start.
  8. My immediate manager didn’t hand over the reins on far too many things I was responsible for, even though I asked and asked and asked.
  9. When the contract changed at the beginning of this year, he was let go, and the director started to understand just how much I didn’t know.  (“Whoa, maybe she’s NOT just a crappy manager.  Maybe she’s just untrained!”)
  10. Half of my team quit right when the contract changed.
  11. We’ve been EXTREMELY short-staffed but expected to produce at the level of a fully-staffed team…and no one is applying for the open positions across our center.  Word on the street is that we don’t have such a great reputation as a place to work.
  12. Numbers and stats seem to be more important than people.
  13. The general air across the whole center is soooooo negative, tense, and stressed.  You can feel it in the air.

I have never worked in an environment like this before.  I have never cried so much or been so exhausted by a job.  And on top of that, I have had the hardest time figuring out why I’m even there because when I asked the Lord to help me hit the expected numbers, he said, “No.”

“Wait, what?” said I.  “So you’re setting me up for failure?  This is extremely uncool, and I don’t understand.”

“Daughter.  Chill.  I am not setting you up for failure.  I will protect you, and you know that.  What I AM doing is giving them a chance to realize how unrealistic their expectations are and to change them.  In the meantime, speak life every opportunity you get.”

Okay, then.  First, I had to make a Herculean effort to climb out of the sludge of negativity that just consumes that place, and I realized the only way to do so was to crawl up in the Lord’s lap and let Him wrap His wings around me and not move an inch.  I had to choose to see things from His perspective, rather than focus on the chaos around me. Most days now, I do pretty well.  What still gets to me is seeing/feeling the frustration others carry, but that’s where His directive comes into play.  I have been looking for every possible way to speak life over people.  For many, it’s as simple and basic as a smile and finding something positive to say to them (although the Lord asks me to pray for them in my own time).  For a few quietly like-minded believers on site, I get to ask openly how I can pray.  For two, maybe three, I can go a lot deeper.  There’s one who’s on a journey to discover the Lord, and I feel incredibly honored to be even a small part of that.

So, in hindsight, I guess I really should have realized that it wasn’t going to be what I thought.  The Lord sends me into places on assignments – he’s always done this – for his purposes.  I suppose I assumed, since the job description looked like someone wrote it based on a list of my experiences and qualifications, that I was going to make an impact through the job itself.  But y’all, I am not a “numbers trump people” kind of person.  I’m actually a pretty terrible manager, if you go by their definition of management.  I could not care less about being number one in the nation, or meeting quotas, or writing monthly reports, or or or…

I’ve got some future dreams burning in me, and I’m thinking they’re going to come to life pretty soon.  But I’m to stay in this job until the Lord says the assignment is finished.  And if I’m the only one in the entire company who believes that people are more important than stats, so be it.  I think about the stars, how from our perspective, they’re tiny little pinpoints of light in a vast blackness, but in reality, they’re quite large.  And to me, those little positive words are like the stars.  A small word of hope or kindness or truth can be a HUGE thing in the darkness of someone’s life, and I might never know because from where I’m standing, all I did was say, “Hey, you’ve got great hair,” or, “You are doing an awesome job, and I appreciate you.”

So there I go again, being all optimistic.  Sorry, cynics.  In the end, I know who’s got me, and I want to see things the way He does, always.  I choose life.

 

Blooming in the Desert: An Uneloquent Post of Appreciation

The Lord’s kindness takes so many forms.

My 2018, so far, has been full of kindness.  My situation has not yet changed for the better, but it’s as if the Lord is determined to shower me, in the midst of all the chaos and unknowns, with sweet little reminders of his affection.

  • Random strangers shouted, “Bless you!” from across the street, two different times, two different places, as I sneezed.
  • A good friend has committed to checking on me once a week, until I no longer want or need her to.
  • Facebook friends and family were astonishingly generous with their praise when I (uncomfortably) posted a photo of me all dressed up for a night out to see Hamilton with my kiddo.

Small gestures, these, but I have felt them like water on a thirsty ground.  They are reminders that I have value.

Speaking of thirsty ground, one of my favorite places in the world has been offering up its kindnesses, too: the Anza-Borrego Desert.  I discovered it in the spring of 2017, during the superbloom that resulted from unusually heavy winter rains, and it was instant love.

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Superbloom in Anza-Borrego Desert

Its 600,000 wild acres of mountains, sand, canyons, and badlands seem to whisper to my soul.  I find I can breathe freely in its wide-open spaces.  (And the night skies, oh my goodness.  The tiny little village in the middle of the desert, Borrego Springs, is an International Dark Sky Community [more info here], so there are no streetlights for 50 miles in any direction.  You’ll never find a more perfect view of the Milky Way.)  So I get out there as often as I can, sometimes to stay the night, sometimes just to take my little Renegade off-roading, but always to hear the Lord and regain a bit of equilibrium.  I dream of building an artists’ retreat there someday – there’s a robust art scene in Borrego Springs – where people can come and be inspired by the harsh beauty of the land.  And, of course, I will use it, too.

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The Milky Way from Galleta Meadows in Anza-Borrego

I was wandering around the Borrego Art Institute last summer, and I began speaking with one of the ladies who worked there.  I found myself telling her about my artists’ retreat dream, and the next thing I knew, she was showing me vacant lots all around the area.  We had an instant connection, something that rarely, if ever, happens to me, and I came away from that day feeling the Lord’s hand over me like a warm shelter.  I looked for her on subsequent visits, but I always seemed to miss her – until this last weekend.  I had a tough week and drove out to the desert on Saturday, journal, Bible, and snacks in hand.  I spent some time writing, but as the sun began going down and the winds picked up, it got chilly, so I decided to go check out the latest exhibit at the Art Institute.  And there she was at her desk.  Her cheery “How ARE you?” led to me unloading about my life, which led to her and her coworker praying over me right then and there, which then led to an invitation to her home that evening.  And when I walked in her door, it was as if I had known her and her husband my entire life (in fact, her husband had said something similar when she showed him the photo of us she had insisted on).  Soon I was covered with cats and little, yappy dogs, and a fantastic conversation ensued.  By the end of the evening, this older couple had wrapped me in a cocoon of love and total acceptance, had opened their home to me anytime I should want it, and prayed over me again.  I think that night’s sleep was the best I’ve had since coming to California.  The next morning, I got texts detailing what a blessing I was to them.

Y’all.  I barely know what to do with all this kindness, but something deep in me is so hungry for it.  I, too, am thirsty ground, and here come the gentle, soaking rains.  It feels like I have things to learn yet, but they are not harsh lessons.  I can hardly believe that I might get to learn what it feels like not to be cracked and dry.

“And yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave [me] rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying [my heart] with food and gladness.” — Acts 14:17, New Pellucere Version 🙂

I am so thankful for his kindness.

Love’s a Revolving Do-o-o-r

(With apologies to Princess Ana and Prince Hans, and also to your brain, which now has probably been infested with an earworm)

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about the people in my life who have come and gone through the years.  Mostly, I’ve been thinking about the ones who have gone.

Some have gone because they grew into people who have little in common with me.

Some decided my presence in their lives was only “for a season.”  I may or may not have agreed.

Some  were hypercritical/nasty/abusive/negative, and I decided they needed to go.

Some blamed me for things I didn’t do, or they didn’t forgive me for things I did.

Some just faded away.  One minute they were there, and then all of a sudden it was 3 years since we last spoke.

Some passed away or moved away.  Either way, we lost contact.

Some should have never come in to begin with.

There are a LOT of emotions that can accompany the dissolution of a relationship, and most of them are negative.  Fear, anger, blame, bitterness, depression, guilt, sorrow…all of  these come rushing in to fill the spot where the person once was.  You might find yourself reciting a litany of things you could have done differently.  Or maybe you scream and scream and scream at the other person, even if it’s only in your mind.  Or maybe you find yourself defaming him or her to others, or even becoming suicidal.

Here’s the deal:  People are complex, unpredictable beings.  We can never truly know with 100% certainty why they do what they do.  We might understand bits of it…or we might be way off the mark and make judgements based on our own filters.  And these judgements we make don’t exclude us.  For example, your best friend might freak out on you one day and yell at you for an hour about how you always try to make her be someone she’s not.  Maybe this is true, and you do that.  Or maybe something about your personality triggers a deeply-buried hurt she carries from someone who really didn’t accept her as she was.  But in the face of that onslaught, you start thinking she’s crazy, and then you start second-guessing yourself and thinking maybe you’re doing this stuff without realizing it and all of a sudden, ohmygosh, you’re such a horrible friend who doesn’t deserve to have a BFF.  BOOM, just like that, 2 hurting people, because you owned the accusation.

So how the heck am I supposed to navigate these murky waters of relationship, then? 

Here’s the answer:  Love.  Love that holds on loosely, allows people to be people, and continues to love, even when they leave.

Absolutely impossible in our own strength.  Truly, and yet we are told  in the Bible to do exactly this because it’s good for them AND good for us.  “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing” (1 Pet 3:9, NIV).

I think a part of that blessing we inherit is not having to walk around damaged by negative emotions that take root.  If people want to go, let them go.  Realize that you don’t understand everything, but the Lord does, and He still loves your ex-best-friend.  Be like Him – it has nothing to do with how you feel.  Give those hurt feelings to Him (and don’t take them back!!), and then continue to love your friend by blessing her in her coming and going.  Deuteronomy 28:6 says, “A blessing on you when you go out, and a blessing on you when you come in” (Complete Jewish Bible).  And yes, I realize that contextually, this verse is smack in the middle of an explanation of what happens when you are obedient to God.  I’m not trying to twist Scripture for my own purposes.  I just think it’s a great sentiment and an example of how we can treat the people who come in and out of our lives.  And anyway, doesn’t it make sense that if they are coming in and out of our lives, we’re also going in and out of theirs?  So if we are obedient, we receive the blessings coming and going.  And obedience to God’s word includes blessing those that curse you (Luke 6:28, Romans 12:14, Matthew 5:44).

So let the door revolve.  Thank the Lord for the good things the person brought into your life; where applicable, forgive the not-so-good, and send them on their way with a blessing.  And also?  Don’t marry a guy who proposes 10 minutes after you meet (looking at you, Princess Ana)!