Finding Peace In a Time of Dread

I don’t know if you’ve ever had a freight train barrelling down on you and all you can do is wait for it to hit before. You’re waiting for the power to be turned off. The doctor to give the terrible diagnosis. For the court date to come, the judgment to be rendered, the relationship to irreparably break. Where you’ve just stood and watched the cracks form as the world starts to fall out from under your feet. Even if you’ve experienced it all before, waiting for the freight train to hit can leave you struggling to breathe from one moment to the next and make each day a long, arduous endeavor to get from morning to night without breaking anything or anyone.

I think a lot of people are in that place – or realizing that they may be headed towards that place right now. Unemployment claims in the US are expected to jump from 250,000 to over 2.5 million this week. Elderly people and those with preexisting health conditions are living in fear. People with no health insurance are thinking through what will be their sign that they have no choice but to seek medical treatment if they get sick. Everywhere there are people making choices between income and protecting their health. Being isolated or risking the health of those they care about. Right now there are people watching the cracks forming under their feet and contemplating whether they even have what it takes to survive the world falling out from under them.

This time 5 years ago, that was me. I was living in a state of constant dread. My husband hadn’t gotten a paycheck in over 6 months and the last bit of consulting work he could drum up had been completed a couple of months back. We hadn’t paid the rent for March and there was little to no hope of being able to cover it in April either. Our one working car was in such dire need of repairs that we didn’t dare even use it for one of us to get a job working for low wages lest it finally breakdown and require a repair bill too large to be covered by a low wage job and thus make it impossible for my husband to get to job interviews much less to his first paycheck large enough to cover the repairs. We had no plan for the inevitable eviction we were facing – no place to go, few people to turn to when the day came that we were forced to load the family into our janky truck and leave. The only positive was that the utility companies were prohibited by the laws of the Northern Tundra from turning off the gas and electricity until Mid-May.

The kind of dread that comes from waiting helplessly for the freight train to hit is like a great suffocating blanket. When the freight train actually hits it creates problems that demand action. The adrenaline hits and you physically have to move. There are plans to execute, solutions to find, calls to make. When the train hits and there’s carnage all over the tracks, you call in help, you move to stop the bleeding, you put aside thoughts for tomorrow while dealing with what’s right in front of you. But when the train’s barreling down on you and the ground under your feet starts to rumble and there’s nowhere to go and nothing to do but wait, there’s just that paralyzing dread.

Back in 2015 when I was walking through long days of dread, I was reminded one day of the sparrow whose fall Jesus says God takes note of. And it hit me that in my mind, the entirety of that bird’s existence was defined by the moment it fell and yet that wasn’t so at all. Prior to the moment it fell, there had been a great many more moments of not falling. Of flying, socializing, singing, eating, resting and just living its bird life. Out of all the moments that the bird existed, the moment of fall was actually the smallest one. I don’t know what it was about this idea that grabbed me that day, but it came to me that if that freight train was going to hit, it made no more sense for me to suffer in advance over it than it would have for the bird to allow the fact of its inevitable fall to steal all enjoyment from the other moments of it existence.

I felt God telling me, “you think constantly about what has happened or what will happen and hardly even notice that right this moment, you are fine. You can breath, you’re not far removed from a meal, you can get something to drink when you need it, you have shelter from the weather and covering for your body. No one is harming your body in this moment and there’s something beautiful closeby for you to see. Right in this very moment, you’re OK.”

After that, when the dread would start to overtake me, I’d stop and repeat to myself, “right now, I have everything I need. I am safe, I am fed and watered, I am sheltered and I have something beautiful to look at. In this moment right now, I am fine.” It sounds trite, but I’d actually think of the last meal I had eaten, take a sip of the cup of tea, coffee or water I had sitting nearby. I would let myself physically feel the creature comforts I was surrounded by. I’d take a moment to look at and appreciate something beautiful and the dread would pass. In its place came almost a sense of awe at my good fortune. There was still a freight train approaching, but until it hit, I was living in a level of luxury and security that many of the humans who have ever existed rarely had. It made no sense not to savor every moment of it for as long as I could.

Over the next couple of months I would regularly discipline myself to engage in this little mental practice whenever my sense of dread would crop up. Simple and trite though it sounds, it transformed the entire way I experience life. After a while, I started to feel unreasonably spoiled. Yeah, all the furniture might wind up on the front lawn come May, but have you felt how soft this couch is? (Don’t look at the stains!) And how many people in history ever got to enjoy both coffee and tea with just the right amount of sweetener and cream on the same day?!? Have you seen the view through the living room window or looked closely at this picture on the wall? And smell the lentil curry cooking on the stove! I live on the great Northern Tundra of the United States of America and there’s a freight train barrelling down on me and yet somehow I have coconut milk and rich spices from the other side of the world! It’s all quite amazing if you really think about it. I mean – lots of people have had the earth open up under their feet, but how many in human history have birthed 5 children who were all in good health and spirits and had never really been hungry?

The hard reality is that life doesn’t owe us anything and when we enter into human form here on planet earth, there are no promises. Anything can happen. We might get hit by a freight train. In due time, each of us inevitably falls just like that bird. But for most of us the moments of disaster are wildly outnumbered by all the moments in which we are fine. Isn’t it enough to deal with the moments of disaster and the arduous work of recovering from them without also handing all of our moments when we’re actually fine over as well?

If you are one of the many, many people who are suddenly living under the shadow of dread, I would strongly encourage you to start disciplining yourself to stop and be in the moment you are actually in rather than fixating on the train that’s barreling down the track towards you. If the train hits, it’s going to suck – there’s no two ways about it. But there’s no point in suffering in advance. Let the moment you are in – the one in which you are fed and clothed and sitting at a computer or on your phone reading these words nourish you so that in the moment that train does hit, you won’t have already worn yourself out with worry and sacrificed all your moments of fine leading up to disaster to it.

And you never know what’s going to happen anyway. I’ve certainly had freight trains hit me and leave a mess behind but that freight train barreling down on me five years ago? It never did hit. My husband got a good job with the best company he’s ever worked for right in the nick of time. The repair guy we took the car to when the first paycheck came did the most critical repair on the cheap and then arranged to replace our ready to blow tires for less than half price. The bills were eventually paid down and there was even a trip to a resort in Mexico on the company dime the following February. I really am spoiled. And even if you have a freight train barreling down on you, you probably are too. You just have to stop and let yourself feel it for as long as you can.

Snowy Day Play

I love videos of animals playing. This one from the Oregon Zoo showing animals in the snow is particularly cute. Isn’t it weird how we’ve been indoctrinated to see animals as unthinking creatures, devoid of relationships and driven only by the instinct to eat and reproduce? Why do we even think that’s the sort of world God would create? Silly.


Patience, According to Da Vinci

da-vinci-profile“Patience serves as a protection against wrongs as clothes do against cold. For if you put on more clothes as the cold increases, it will have no power to hurt you. So in like manner you must grow in patience when you meet with great wrongs, and they will then be powerless to vex your mind.”

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)
Artist, architect and engineer

The New Year’s Resolution That Will Actually Make Your Life Better

calvin-hobbes-new-years-resolutionsI hate New Year’s resolutions.  Hate them.  The worst New Year’s days for me were always the ones when my husband would pull out a piece of paper and write “Trotter Family Resolutions” across the top.  So we could “pull them out at the end of the year and see how we did”.  Great, another completely unrealistic standard to feel bad about not meeting.  Just what I need!

The other day I read an article which advised that the key to keeping this year’s resolutions was to set up specific targets.  Like “I will exercise 3 times a week and lose 25 lbs by April 1.”  Ahahahahahahahahahahahaha!  Seriously.  That’s what it said.  Like the two are related.

Let me tell you how this really works. I’m not thin.  But I do have standards: my belly must not poke out past my boobs.  Having and nursing 5 kids has given me some wiggle room to work with, but a couple of years ago, the belly was threatening to overtake the girls upstairs so I decided it was time to get serious about hitting the gym.  I worked out 4-5 times a week for an hour.  Heavy, sweating, gasping for air aerobic sessions.  Nothing.  2 months in I think I had lost 0″ and 3 lbs.  That’s a lot of sweating for no results.  So I did the obvious; I bought a nice push-up bra.  Problem solved!  Now that’s a New Year’s resolution I can get behind: buy undergarments that will make me look thinner. Continue reading

Playing With Our Lives?

Did you know that all animals play? I knew some did, but hadn’t realized how widespread play is in the animal kingdom:

the existence of animal play is considered something of an intellectual scandal. It’s understudied, and those who do study it are seen as mildly eccentric. As with many vaguely threatening, speculative notions, difficult-to-satisfy criteria are introduced for proving animal play exists, and even when it is acknowledged, the research more often than not cannibalizes its own insights by trying to demonstrate that play must have some long-term survival or reproductive function.

Despite all this, those who do look into the matter are invariably forced to the conclusion that play does exist across the animal universe. And exists not just among such notoriously frivolous creatures as monkeys, dolphins, or puppies, but among such unlikely species as frogs, minnows, salamanders, fiddler crabs, and yes, even ants—which not only engage in frivolous activities as individuals, but also have been observed since the nineteenth century to arrange mock-wars, apparently just for the fun of it. ~ David Graeber*

Aside from just being cool, it also makes me wonder if God’s intention for us doesn’t include a good deal of pleasure. Scripture says that creation is a testimony to God. If play is so widespread that ants do it, then that must reflect something about God’s nature and therefor ours.

In the article I quote above, Dr. Graeber goes on to postulate that play at it’s most basic level may even exist at the quantum level. That even subatomic particles may be chosing their paths and that they may sometimes do it for the sheer pleasure of it.

It’s an axiom of JudeoChristian thought that there is something wrong with humanity. If we learn that play is a driving force in the very foundations of the universe. And if we accept that living things appear to all play. Then, it would appear that our impoverished concept of play and its role in our lives may be one of those things that’s really wrong about us. Who woulda thunk it?

*That quote comes from a delightful article I read recently on the role of play in creation. It’s really long and rather scholarly though. Sample:

What would happen if we proceeded from the reverse perspective and agreed to treat play not as some peculiar anomaly, but as our starting point, a principle already present not just in lobsters and indeed all living creatures, but also on every level where we find what physicists, chemists, and biologists refer to as “self-organizing systems”

If that sentence made your heart sing, you can go read the whole thing here. If you’re a normal human being and that sentence gave you a headache, here’s an awesome video of a whale and dolphin playing:

Stop Worrying About the Idiots!

Would you like to hear my opinion on the controversy de jour? Listen to me rip some idiot to pieces for your edification and amusement? Want my incisive insight into exactly why and how an outrageous, provocative statement is wrong and probably a danger to decent human beings everywhere?

Yeah, sorry. Aint going to happen. Or at least not often. Why? Because a human being who spends their time thinking and talking about stupidity, human failures and what’s wrong with whom and why is like a fish who fixates on water.

We have a tendency to respond to what’s wrong with people as if it were a remarkable thing, worthy of attention and commentary. But really, there’s nothing more unremarkable than humans being stupid, obnoxious, offensive and idiotic.

This brew of human idiocy and failure is the water we swim in. It’s pervasive, expected and completely unremarkable. And it should be treated as such. Ho-hum. More of the same.

What is remarkable and what does deserve our attention are humans being good, kind, generous and courageous. These things are like the coral reefs of life. No one goes scuba diving to look at the water; they’re looking for the bright, the beautiful, the captivating and amazing.

We’d all do well if instead of fixating on the water of human stupidity, we went looking for the coral reefs of human goodness. You’re not going to get rid of the water by staring at it and yelling at it. Instead, the water gets displaced by the beautiful things which grow in it.

Or let’s use another analogy. My house sits within view of I-94. So all day and night, we can hear the sounds of traffic going by. Imagine how unpleasant and stressful it would be if I took notice every time a car or truck went by. If I stopped a few times a day to say to my family, “look at those cars and big ass trucks out there! All they do is drive by making noise day and night. Why isn’t there a sound absorbing wall there? When is it going to stop? And look – there goes an oversized load! Geeze those things are noisy!”

Of course, I don’t do this. No one in my family does. For the most part we don’t even notice the sound of the traffic. But when a bird calls from the trees behind our house, we hear that. We look for it. We put out feeders on the deck to draw them closer. When a deer walks through the yard, we all go to the window to look. When the wind is fierce we stop and listen and wonder at the ferocity of it.

The traffic is just background noise, hardly worthy of our notice. But the beautiful things, the amazing things, the movements of life – those grab our attention.

And this is how it should be with us as we move through life. I’m concerned that a lot of us are wasting our emotional energy, nursing divisions and even despairing of the world paying attention to the unceasing traffic of human stupidity.

Not only is it not good for us, it’s pointless. There’s nothing I can do about the latest murder or war. I can’t get my dog to what I say half the time, much less my elected officials. That pastor or politician or random human being who’s getting a lot of attention for saying something idiotic and inflammatory? If I rebuke them they’re not going to hear about it. Even if they did, they wouldn’t be moved by it.

But when I see something beautiful, even if it’s far away, that helps me. When I hear of people being good and kind, being good and kind myself doesn’t seem like such a foolish, difficult thing. When I encounter something delightful, it makes my own world look a little more magical. What is good lifts us, encourages us and enlightens us.

We are so scared of the dark. So certain that the power of evil will run amok if we aren’t vigilant against it. But this gets everything backwards. The power of good is far more powerful than the power of evil. Even in scriptures it says that the evil of the fathers will be visited on their sons to the third generation. But the good a man does? That endures through 1000 generations.

This is why Jesus says not to resist the evil man, but to do good to those who hate you. He’s directing us to take hold of the real power of the universe – goodness, kindness, mercy, grace, compassion, generosity, courage, love.

So my challenge to you is to stop thinking and talking so much about what’s wrong with people. Turn human stupidity into just a background hum in your life. If you find yourself alarmed by the news, the stupidity, the obnoxiousness of humans doing what they do, stop and tell yourself, “it’s just water. Traffic passing by. Ho hum. More of the same.”

But what’s beautiful, lovely, breath-taking and inspiring? Look for that. Study that. Talk about it. Share it. And then when the water of human stupidity finds its way into your little world, you will know what to do. You will be so familiar with and shaped by what is good that you can build your own coral reef and make your own beauty.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. ~ Philippians 4:8

Forgiveness – VIDEO

‘K – something you need to know about me; I am freakishly un-photogenic. Seriously. Not that attractiveness is terribly important, but I am much better looking in person than on this video I’m going to share with y’all. Even my 13 y.o. when he was helping me format the video commented, “you don’t look anything like this in real life, mom. It’s really weird.”

Which is all cover to make myself feel better before coming out from behind the text and sharing my video with you. The video’s my top 5 strategies for forgiveness. Something which I have had my fair share of experience with. Ahem.

(If you were on facebook last night and saw me freaking out – this was what had me all in a tizzy. Thank you to all the peeps who gave me a boost. BTW, if you’re not following The Upside Down World on facebook, you should go do that. After you watch the video:)

If you enjoy the video, please pass it around. And all of the ideas I share here are also found in my book The Upside Down World’s Guide To Enjoying the Hard Life. Along with 40-some other tidbits of brilliance. It’s totally worth the $5.98 that you should go spend on it right now. As long as I’m bossing y’all around! 😉

Godly Thinking vs The World

“Encourage one another and build each other up ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:11
  • Godly thinking believes you can be the person you heart desires to be and accomplish the things your heart longs to accomplish.
  • The world believes you can be the person they want you to be and accomplish the things they think you should want to accomplish.
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. ~ Romans 12:2
  • Godly thinking celebrates every little victory as evidence that you will accomplish what it is you’re working towards and see the setbacks as irrelevant to your ultimate success.
  • The world views setbacks as proof that the whole way you’re doing things is flawed, probably fatally and certainly evidence that you should be adopting their vision of success, a good life and yourself as your own.
“They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the LORD. ~ Jeremiah 1:19
  • When you’re frustrated or discouraged, Godly thinking reminds you of all that you’ve accomplished already as evidence which points to the reality of ultimate victory.
  • When you’re frustrated or discouraged, the world sees all your accomplishments as evidence that you should be doing better than you are. Past victories are evidence of potential not met.

We have troubles all around us, but we are not defeated. We do not know what to do, but we do not give up the hope of living. We are persecuted, but God does not leave us. We are hurt sometimes, but we are not destroyed. ~ 2 Corinthians 4:8-9

  • The world believes coloring outside the lines is evidence of failure.
  • Godly thinking knows that people who do great things almost always color outside the lines.
He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.” ~ Luke 16:16
  • The world focus on failure.
  • Godly thinking focuses on potential.
God began a good work in you and I am sure he will continue it until it is finished. ~ Phillipians 1:6
  • Godly thinking believes that what we get right is ultimately more important and more powerful than what we get wrong.
  • The world believes that what we get wrong defines us.
Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. ~ Phillippians 4:8
  • Godly thinking believes that everything works out in the end and if it hasn’t worked out, it’s not the end.
  • The world believes that each moment represents a point at which success or failure can be judged.
Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. ~ Romans 8:17-18

PMS, Reinterpreted

Do women tend to have higher natural emotional intelligence (EQ) than men? Most people think so although research hasn’t settled the argument yet. But if women do have higher EQ, I think I know the reason: PMS. (Men, you need to hear this, so don’t check out on me now!)

There’s this weird thing which happens with PMS. Every month you have a day or two where you are completely convinced that your life is awful, with no redeeming qualities, hardly worth living. You will find yourself collecting evidence to support this perspective. The money problems. The kid’s dirty clothes. That hole in the wall that’s needed patching for as long as the baby’s been alive. It’s all your fault, evidence of your failure. And it’s hopeless. You know for a fact that all those people saying things like “you don’t lose until you quit” are delusional unicorn-friending idiots. At some point you start to understand women who abandon their kids to smoke meth in a motel outside of Vegas with a truck driver. It makes perfect sense in fact.

But here’s the thing: while you are busy wondering if you actually have the cajones to go to the local truck stop and start talking up potential new boyfriends, it never, ever occurs to you that any of this is anything but gospel truth. It’s not until the next day when you discover for a fact that you are not pregnant that you realize – it’s just hormones! It’s not actually real. Continue reading

The Secret of Life*

This is rough, and obviously abbreviated, but I think it’s just about right.

The secret of life – the great secret of life – is that what brings us real joy tells us who we are. God wants us to live lives of joy and has therefore put the blueprint for finding joy into our very being which is made in his own image. Since every good and perfect gift – ie what brings us real, lasting joy – comes from God, the more we know God, the more we will recognized joy. And the more we recognize what brings us joy, the more we will know who God uniquely created us to be.

But there is a forgetting that is part of being human, and we forget who we really are or how to find the blueprint for joy. So, we piece together a sense of who we are from our experiences, other people’s input, ideas we come across. Most of us struggle just to get to know this poorly reflected version of who we are. We rely on emotions whose meanings we only vaguely understand to guide our choices because the discomfort they create is so awful that any reasonable person seeks escape. We escape by seeking pleasures we know are harmful because they offer that respite from the discomfort our lives cause us.

One of the most important roles that religion has played has been to help us avoid and recognize when what we are being offered is a false version of what we really need in order to be joyful. Continue reading