A few years back - a dozen years or so ago - Sheri, Rebecca and I did a little exercise for a few months where we were to look around and try to find something great as we went about our daily activities of work, school, chores, etc. - then we were to report to each other each evening on the thing(s) we were able to spot. It was a little unnatural at first and it seemed to require some concentrated effort on our part but we quickly got into a groove and it was fun. We even wrote those great things we were able to see down on paper and displayed them on the fridge. Good exercise because I think it created a good habit, with me at least.
It reminded me that we see that for which we're looking. It's a form of sensory acuity - like when you buy a new car and then all of a sudden you see the exact make and model and color of your new car all over the place. We are just wired that way, to see that on which we are focused and to filter out most of the rest of what goes on around us.
I try to be positive, to see the good things around me, to see something good even in bad situations, to have gratitude for the things I have and not worry about the small stuff, and to be the kind of person with whom people would want to associate or maybe even just hang out. Isn't this what God wants us to do? Isn’t this the kind of person to which I should aspire? I truly believe this is exactly who He would like His children to be.
A few days ago, I had a dream where Sheri had just smiled at me for something I had asked her. When I awoke, I was in an awesome mood. That smile was really pretty and it just melted my heart all over again, but her smiles have always done that to me anyway. But while it was really nice in that foggy area between sound asleep and wide awake, after a few moments it became a reminder to me just how long it had been since I started the day that way.
Because lately, I'm having a harder and harder time being the way I want to be - and the really difficult part is that I find on most days that I don't even really want to be this way. I'd rather just close my eyes, pull the covers over my head and go back to sleep so it will stop hurting.
I have to force myself to get out of bed, force myself to start thinking in positive tones, force myself to hit my knees to give thanks and praise, etc. There are days when my will just isn't strong enough anymore. I still get out of bed eventually and still go through the motions of being cheerful and happily working through the workday. But I feel like I'm wearing a mask through which no one can see.
I have never been one of those people who is always waiting for the other shoe to drop, to ask myself or God or anyone within reasonable hearing or shouting distance "What next?" or "Why do these things happen to me?". So as I find myself drifting towards being that “Why me?” kind of person, I'm resisting as hard as I can, but mostly I feel like I'm trying to climb a very steep, muddy, slippery hill - sliding backwards more often than not.
Life is a wonderful gift from God and it should be treasured. We should have joy. We're supposed to be happy, to get ourselves up off our asses and go find happiness. I don't believe in sitting around and expecting life to take on the responsibility of making us happy. It doesn't work that way.
But what do you do when you look and look and search and search and you find that the happiness, joy, or even contentment that you so desperately seek is becoming more and more elusive? Can someone tell me that I’m not wrong for believing that it's just not supposed to be this way?
But it is. My life is this way. Right or wrong, this has become my life. Most of my ills are of my own doing, to be sure. I'm a strong believer in taking personal responsibility for my life and I've made plenty of mistakes for which I find myself today having to pay the price. Some things that happen to me are due to thoughtless or careless actions of others and some are just plain old malicious intent. It’s rare but it does happen. And then some things just happen for no apparent or obvious reason. I take some comfort in knowing that I’m not alone in this – these things happen to everyone, no doubt about it. But even knowing that anymore doesn’t seem to be enough to keep me from catching myself asking those "why me?" kind of questions these days.
This morning I woke up and found that a big 6 inch thick limb had fallen off of one of the beautiful oak trees in the yard and landed on my car. It glanced the back end of the car, breaking the passenger side tail light and putting a nice dent in the trunk. I will have to somehow bang the dent out to get the new tail light to fit into place. In the past, my first thought would have been that it could have been a lot worse. I didn’t consider the fact that it could have fallen squarely on the hood or top of the car, causing much more damage. I didn’t care about the fact that all of the windows escaped damage. All I could think about was straws and rubber bands, and which one is going to be the one that does me in. Was this it?
Have you ever watched the watermelon/rubber band video? If not, You should go watch it you can check it out by clicking here.
It's the one where two guys are sitting on either side of a watermelon. The melon is standing on end and they are putting rubber bands around the thickest part of it. Just putting one rubber band at a time around the middle of it. Eventually, the watermelon starts to resemble the shape of an hourglass until just can't take anymore and POW! It explodes – and it explodes rather violently I might add. Chunks of watermelon all over the place. The straw that broke the camel's back - or the rubber band that exploded the watermelon.
Beginning to get the picture?
There's no single rubber band that's responsible for the explosion and there's no one thing in my life that's going to push me over the edge - some things are bigger than others and some things are so small that someone else looking in would think it's of no consequence at all. Friends, family, co-workers, casual acquaintances will ask “Are you really going to let this little thing, this (fill-in-the-blank) ruin your day (or your life)? Well, no. Of course not - but they all add up and I'm really feeling the squeeze from all of those rubber bands.
So I gathered up all of the broken pieces of the limb into a pile on the driveway. Dad was mowing and they needed to be out of his way. I carried them to the back yard and put them in a trailer to haul off to the dump. I was angry - angry at no one in particular, but still angry. And then I asked "Why me?" and began to wonder if I was angry with God.
I got a big bucket to gather up the little sticks and leaves from the garage and started back out. There was no breeze at all, there hadn’t been all morning. The air was as still and quiet as could be, and I had to think about this after the fact but I don’t think I had noticed any leaves falling the whole time I was outside - not a single one.
As I exited the garage though, one leaf fell. It fell from several dozen feet above my head. In the absolute stillness of the day, one single solitary lonely leaf let go from that tree and softly fell to towards the ground. I didn't really even notice it until it landed right in the bucket I was carrying.
I stopped in my tracks and peered into the bucket in my right hand. I looked up to see from where it came. I looked back into the bucket at that one little leaf and then right there in front of Dad, the neighbors, street traffic, and God, I stood in the driveway and started to cry. Standing there holding a bucket totally empty save for one single leaf, I put my left hand over my face and bawled like a baby and couldn't stop. Dad was busy mowing and didn't see or notice, No neighbors were outside so I don't think they saw and even if they did, who would come out to investigate anyway?
And then I caught myself wondering if God was even watching.
In the middle of the driveway, in the bright glare of the mid-morning sunlight, I felt as alone as that little leaf there in the bucket and wondered to myself if maybe, just maybe, that last rubber band had been put around me.
And then a slow dawning came to me. A sense of peace and calm entered into my soul as I began to realize that I had just received a message. "I am watching." the message said. "I see you and I've got your back." it whispered to me. "Stay strong, keep fighting, don't give up and I'll make sure that last rubber band never makes it around you." that ever so quiet voice reassured me.
Now the tears really started to flow. No longer because I felt I was losing the fight and there was no way out as I had felt only moments before, but now because I understood that I do have help. All of a sudden I knew this, and I knew that I knew it! I was given that understanding just when I was about resign myself to the fact that there was no help to be had, give up on the day and go back to bed and pray to not wake up. That feeling of hopeless helplessness will do that to a person.
When people ask me how I'm doing these days, I am wont to answer with a quick "Hanging on by a thread." and that's usually accepted by the inquisitor as good ol’ Lynn just being glib again, not realizing just how much in crisis I am, not knowing to inquire further, to dig a little deeper. It's not their fault - how would they know?
And even when they see through the mask for a brief moment, and they can see past the glibness, they don't realize just how thin that thread is. That is of course, by design. I put on that mask for a reason. I tend to be very private when it comes to stuff like this and I protect that privacy and my weaknesses and my insecurities and the fact that I’m hanging on by a thread ferociously. I'm not very good at asking for help. The more help I need the worse I am at asking – putting that mask on makes more sense, at least on an emotional self-preservation level.
1COR 10:13 - There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.
I refer to that scripture every day. EVERY . SINGLE . DAY - and even multiple times a day. I have to. That's what finally gets me out of bed. That's what gets me to put on a shirt and tie and go my office. That scripture is what gets me to shower and shave and eat and breathe and live. It's what keeps me from cashing in my chips and checking out.
Every day these days is a struggle. I still find little things in which to find joy - hugs from Aubrey and Kinsley, seeing the face of someone finding the perfect home for their family, calls from friends and family just checking to see how I'm doing, driving out to the country to see God's creations, or listening to George Dyer sing "Music of the Night". I know that I have much for which to be thankful, but these days the rubber bands are starting to take their toll on me.
The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said: He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster – and if thou gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.
From personal experience I know that he was right on both counts. And while I continue to hope and pray that I will never become the monster that I fear, I do feel as though I am becoming more and more at ease with gazing into the abyss, and find myself doing so almost longingly more and more often. These days it’s very similar to the feeling I get by staring into the flames of a good fire. Mind settling. Soothing. It’s even becoming comforting to me knowing that the abyss is gazing back into me.
But here’s the thing – the bottom line, if you will. “I know what I have to do now. I have to keep breathing. Because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring?” ~ Chuck Noland, Castaway
1COR 10:13. There's the thread keeping me from falling or tumbling or even easing myself into the infinite darkness of the abyss - and while I almost lost my grip on that thread this morning, I'm hanging on.
I'm hanging on with every ounce of strength I can muster.
The Most Important Things...
The most important things are the hardest things to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them--words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they’re brought out. But it’s more than that, isn’t it? The most important things lie too close to where your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you’ve said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried while you were saying it. That’s the worst, I think. When the secret stays locked within not for want of a teller, but for want of an understanding ear.