When It Comes to Faith, Don’t Hedge Your Bets

This post was encouraging to me, and I hope it will be for you, too.

Tim's Blog - Just One Train Wreck After Another

How about a cement wall with razor wire?

“I’m going to pray a hedge around you.”

I can’t remember who said it the first time I heard that, but I do remember thinking it was about the goofiest hing I’d ever heard. Apparently so did Tim Hawkins:

It turns out the hedge of protection is biblical:

Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”

“Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied.“Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has?” (Job 1:8-10, emphasis added.)

Tim Hawkins was more right than he knew. Satan can’t get through the hedge.

The hedge goes both ways

Job saw the hedge from a different angle, though.

Why is life given…

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An epidemic of busyness…

This is the post that I referenced in my previous post. Enjoy!

Enough Light

There seems to be an epidemic of busyness. At least this is my experience in recent years. We have stages of life that are busier than others, and that is normal. But it seems everyone is now busy – even people not in a “busy stage” of life. What’s going on?

I’ll give a personal example. We know several couples from different areas of our life, who are either in early retirement or young empty nesters. They no longer have children at home. With the empty nest couples, one spouse works full time and the other spouse is part-time or not employed. These people, theoretically, should be in a less busy stage of life. Right?

Yet, when we attempted to get together with them for lunch or dinner, they were not able to “schedule us in” for 3 to 6 months. And when we did finally get together, it was…

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Being busy, rescue dogs, and hearing from God

 

b156b88d0b2e4bb0aac33bc1a7e8629aAll I was doing was sitting at Bruegger’s, reading a blog post. And choosing my top twenty short story contest selections. And eating lunch. That’s all I was doing.

Then I heard the woman in the booth next to me. As she talked on her cell phone, her voice was obviously upset. With my mind deep in my choosing and eating and reading (not to mention the clatter-chatter of employees and customers), I couldn’t hear all her words. What I did hear sounded ominous: death, casket. But the tone was clear. This woman was distraught.

That’s when the blog post I was reading slapped me upside the head. Not literally. Not even literarily. Laura Martin is a gracious writer. But she was writing about the epidemic of busyness that plagues our lives.  Everyone claims to be busy, some legitimately so, but some have become too busy doing unproductive-but-oh-so-important “stuff.”

Call it life clutter. It’s all the things we feel we must do to have a fulfilled life that really, from an eternal perspective, are time-sucking, energy-draining vampires. You know this vampire’s sunk its teeth in your neck if you have to pencil in a night with friends . . . six months from now. It may take the form of noble tasks (volunteer work) or inane time wasters (fill in the blank). But if you don’t have some room for other people, particularly when they are in need, then it’s time to rethink how many commitments you’ve taken.

By the time I finished my first comment on her post, I felt that kick in my heart. Go talk to this woman. I thought of all the reasons I shouldn’t, which amounted to she’ll think I’m creepy and don’t I have to finish painting that piece of furniture in the garage? Cue the eyeroll.

She finished the phone call. I finished my work. Do it, do it, don’t think about it too much—

I walked over and started talking to her.

She owns two rescue dogs, both large, exuberant animals who have become too much for her to handle on her own. “They’re man-dogs,” she said. “You know, the type that guys have in their truck when they go hunting and fishing.” They can knock her over, and as a middle-aged woman, she’s afraid that she’ll break a bone one of these days.

She’s cared for them, loved them, and tried to find new homes for both. She couldn’t bear to keep them at the humane society, where the conditions are so overcrowded that the previously no-kill shelter has started to euthanize healthy dogs. They’ve had their photos on the news, when the shelter pleaded for people to adopt some of these animals. She’s tried every animal rescue group in our area.

No one wanted these two big dogs.

Finally, she decided that the most humane thing would be to have them put down. Or thought she decided. As an animal lover, her heart was broken. She needed comfort and help deciding what was the right thing to do. The vet had said that he would do it, but he didn’t want to. It was her decision, and he needed to know by a certain time that afternoon if it was to happen that day.

I’m not an animal lover. I am allergic to dogs, as is my husband, and our yard isn’t large enough for these beloved animals. I don’t know anyone who wants a dog. So this was not a problem that I could solve.

But I could listen.

I listened. I did my best to show comfort. And even though she said she wasn’t religious or spiritual, when I asked if I could pray for her, she let me.

When we parted, forty-five minutes later, she still hadn’t decided what to do. I’m going to call her and see what she’s decided.

 

The obvious takeaway lesson should be this: God used this to remind me to take time for others! That’s the obvious one, and a reminder that I needed.

But the less obvious takeaway wasn’t a lesson at all. It was God’s reassurance that I’m still hearing him. I’m going through one of those moments in life when prayer feels like talking to a wall, the Bible feels like the most familiar thing I’ve ever read, and church feels like a time waster. (When you walk out of the sanctuary and think, I could’ve had a V8, then there’s a problem.) I don’t go to Sunday school anymore and I dread the worship service. It’s all the same old issues that I’ve blogged about, plus some.

It has the effect of making me think I’m never going to hear from God again. A lie, but  . . .

Go talk to her. That kick in my heart was so obviously God’s voice (to mix the metaphor) that I walked away feeling renewed.

At one point in our conversation, the woman looked at me. “I wonder if God or the universe or whoever sent you here to stop me from putting the dogs down?”

I don’t know.  But I know that God sent her to stop me from believing a lie. I’m still hearing from him.

Now I have to make time to listen. 

 

 

 

When evil appears to win

ab351a672de44766956840771490c1f5Don’t you hate it when evil wins?

Recently, I read a novel where the antagonists win in the end. Actually, scratch that. “Read” isn’t accurate. “Began to read but felt uneasy as certain themes developed, skipped to the end, read the conclusion, and thought, ‘What the–?’, then skimmed through the rest of the book to find that if I had actually read the book, the way the author intended me to read it, page-by-page, then I would have come to the unsettling conclusion that the antagonists win.” Now that’s accurate.

The antagonists–the very people the protagonists are fighting, the evil ones, the ones you are supposed to suspect and dislike–those people win.

And the protagonists–the leading couple, the parents of two children, the ones you were supposed to be cheering for–they not only lost, but they succumb to the evil forces themselves.

I wasn’t the only reader unsettled by the conclusion. Multiple reviewers on Goodreads mentioned the ending as problematic. Some felt that it was appropriate for this particular novel. Others believed the author wrote him/herself into a corner and saw no other ending. Still others wrote that they would never read another book by that author again.

Mind you, this wasn’t just an unhappy ending. My first novel has a bittersweet ending: the couple reconciles but their child still dies after a suicide attempt. Happy ending? No. But I tried to give this couple hope through both their faith in God and their love for their daughter’s newborn child. I think that’s a far cry from the bad-guys-defeat-good-guys ending.

I’ve read variations on the “evil wins” ending over the years, and I believe I understand why authors use it. They’re trying to reflect reality, and the reality is that human nature is evil. (So far, I agree.) Sometimes it appear that the ending of a life-story ends with evil (whatever form that takes) overcoming the good.

Again, I agree that sometimes in life, that’s how stories appear to end. Sometimes reconciliation doesn’t happen. Sometimes terrorists blow up a building and kill hundreds of people. Sometimes the justice system doesn’t work correctly and the murderer, the molester, the corrupt and unjust and predatory people in this world go unchallenged, undeterred, unpunished. And more people are hurt.

But appearances are deceptive. 

Here’s the reality: this world isn’t all there is. There is a world beyond this one. What appears to be the end in our world–death–is only a beginning there.

In The Last Battle, Aslan tells the children that in the Shadowlands, this world, they are dead. Now they will live in Aslan’s kingdom forever.

Lewis writes,

“And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

Does evil win on earth? Sometimes, yes. 

Does evil win in God’s kingdom? No. Emphatically, no. Those evils of this world–the injustices, the depravities, the sufferings–will be fully and justly dealt with there, regardless of whether they were here. God wins. Every. Single. Time.

We must continue to fight for justice here. That is right and good. Knowing that God will be triumphant doesn’t excuse us ignoring injustice in this world. But we can do so with the encouragement that we are not fighting in vain.

With God, there is always hope. The most realistic novels I’ve read, while they may have bittersweet or sad endings, also include some element of hope. It may be only a flicker of a candle on a starless night. But it is there.

A novel that ends without hope and with evil winning? Now, that’s unrealistic.

 

 

Eating my words

This is when I have to eat my words.

A few years ago, I ditched my Facebook and Twitter accounts because of their effect on my mental health. I wrote a few blog posts on the issue.

In December, I read a recent blog post by Kristen Oliphant titled Engaging Audiences Through Twitter in 15 Minutes a Day , and decided to give her suggestions a try. So, while I am definitely staying away from Facebook, I am on Twitter now. And if you happen to follow @tim_fall, you might already know that! (Thanks for the shout-out, Tim.)

You can follow me @LauraDroege. I’ll follow back. But I really will try to keep my time to 15 minutes a day, though, as I still have novels to write, blogs to post, and a life to live offline!

 

Mental Illness doesn’t define me (or anyone else), with a TED talk by Elyn Saks

(Updated. The post below is a repost. I recently came across Elyn Saks’ TED talk about her experiences with schizophrenia and thought I’d share both the link and my thoughts after reading her excellent memoir, The Center Cannot Hold.)

Recently, I’ve been researching schizophrenia. One of my minor characters in my work-in-progress has this illness, hence the need to understand what is happening in her mind. So my Christmas reading list hasn’t been of the cheeriest sort.

I’ve noticed that there’s a hierarchy for mental illnesses for the general public. When people hear about “major depression”, they (often mistakenly) think they understand, and most, I believe, aren’t frightened by it.

Bipolar is below that: the mania distances the non-ill person from understanding, volatile mood swings—seemingly without reason—make others wary of being hurt, and no matter how under control things are, many would hesitate at, say, signing a business contract with an unproven bipolar author. (Ahem.)

Schizophrenia is below that.

Schizophrenia has a reputation. The words “devastating” and “frightening” seem to be the adjectives of choice for its description. There are no lists of “successful people with schizophrenia” as there are with major depression and bipolar disorder. Few associate hope or success or fulfillment with it; they associate psychosis and isolation and misery instead.

Enter Elyn Saks’ memoir The Center Cannot Hold.

Among other things, Saks is Oxford university graduate, Yale Law School graduate, endowed professor at University of Southern California Gould School of Law, happily married, and has close friends and good relationships with her colleagues.

Impressive.

Oh, by the way, she has schizophrenia. She spent time in a psychiatric hospital while at Oxford, dealt with numerous breakdowns and medication woes and terrifying thoughts while pursuing her law degree, and continues to battle the disease.

This is a wonderful, honest, and powerful memoir. One thing really stood out to me: she portrays and views herself as a person with an illness, not a person defined by an illness.

All too often, I read accounts of mentally ill people, and the illness isn’t just a big thing in their life, it’s the only thing that counts. It filters everything. To a certain extent, that’s true; a severe mental illness will filter how we see life. It certainly affects every aspect of our lives. It definitely has for me.

But for some people, the illness becomes their entire identity. Saks refuses to allow that to happen.  She fights hard for autonomy, a sense of self apart from her illness.

“Who was I, at my core? Was I primarily a schizophrenic? Did that illness define me? Or was it an ‘accident’ of being—and only peripheral to me rather than the ‘essence’ of me? It’s been my observation that mentally ill people struggle with these questions perhaps even more than those with serious physical illnesses, because mental illness involves your mind and your core self as well. A woman with cancer isn’t Cancer Woman; a man with heart disease isn’t Diseased Heart Guy; a teenager with a broken leg isn’t The Broken Leg Kid. But if, as our society seems to suggest, good health was partly mind over matter, what hope did someone with a broken mind have?” (page 255)

After taking Zyprexa,

“my final and most profound resistance to the idea I was mentally ill began to give way. Ironically, the more I accepted I had a mental illness, the less the illness defined me” (page 304).

I’ve found that to be true for myself as well. I accepted my diagnosis quickly; it explained so many things from my past. I’ve also found that the more open I am about the illness, the less it defines me.

As a Christian, I define myself first with my relationship to Christ. The bipolar disorder is there. It mingles with all of my various identities—wife, mom, writer, Christian—and colors them, like a child scribbling with crayon in a book. The words on the page are still there, more or less readable depending on the intensity of the coloring, but the crayon marks change the way I read them.

It would be ridiculous to deny their presence.

It would be sad to define the page only by the crayon marks, as if that were nothing else on the page.

True, some words are obscured; others are blurred but legible. But they’re still there. I’m still a person, someone who God made and loves, and this illness doesn’t define me.

This memoir isn’t Saks’ attempt to wave pom-poms at psychiatric patients and cheer: if I can do it, you can too! Far from it. Not everyone can accomplish what she has in her life, and she acknowledges this.

But the book reminds us of this truth: no matter what illness–mental or otherwise–we might have, it does not define who we really are. We are so much more than a diagnosis. We are all humans, precious and valuable.

And that is worth cheering about.

Downton Abbey, Jane Eyre, and the mad wife, a post by Jeannie Prinsen

My brain isn’t working in its typical brilliant way–the brilliant bit was a joke, ya’ll, in case you didn’t realize–and the doctors have concluded, after much pricking and poking and blood guzzling, that my vitamin D levels are extremely low. Apparently, at a certain level, depression, fatigue, cognitive problems, and interesting things like that can happen. And they are happening, right now, as I type, in my brain. I forget words. I cry. I feel wiped out, sometimes to the point where it’s hard to take care of the things I must take care of.

I only wish I could pop open my skull and take a look inside and see what shenanigans those chemicals are up to. They seem quite naughty. But I’ll have to be content with getting lots of rest and taking vitamin D3 supplements. It’s slowly getting better, but I doubt I’ll be a bundle of energy bouncing off the walls any time soon.

All of that to say, I’ve been struggling to write. But I thought I’d share a post that I enjoyed. Jeannie Prinsen wrote a moving essay on Downton Abbey and one particular character whose fate was a bit unsettling.

Spoiler alert! I don’t want anyone getting in a tizzy because the post ruined their entire life–or at least their favorite show–because it gave away a plot twist. Consider yourself warned.  Onto Jeannie’s post. 

Downton Abbey ended last weekend after its sixth and final season. Like millions of other fans of the show, I loved it, and I’m going to miss it. Yes, I still have my DVD’s, but it’s not the same.

The grande finale episode was very touching and satisfying. Still, I’m left with this feeling that the Crawleys and their staff are going on with their life without us, and we’re missing it!

In most cases I enjoy thinking about the characters moving on in life. Read the rest at Little House on the Circle.