Hurricanes & pots of anxiety

There’s a pot of anxiety on the front burner of my heart, and it seems to simmer 24/7 lately. Three times now I’ve started to list its ingredients, but it’s too dispiriting. I would rather focus on what will effectively turn down the heat.

Music that lifts up, exalts, pleads with, cries out to, & holds on to Jesus – those songs serve to turn the burner down a notch. I turn the volume up so I can sing loud, close the door so my enraptured face and body language don’t embarrass me or anybody else.

Sitting with my journal, even if the pen spends half its time poised on my lower lip while I think – that turns it down another notch.

Turning the parchment-thin pages of my Bible to Psalm 62 – this clinches the cooling of that pot of anxiety. I read, “My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him…he is my fortress, I will never be shaken….my hope comes from him…he is my mighty rock, my refuge.”

hurricane-matthewA monster hurricane may rage in the Atlantic – it serves partially to remind us we are not the One in control. Gungor says, “Trees clap their hands for You; oceans bow down to You.” Yes, oceans bow – and writhe, and rage, and roil, and none of it can we control, not with our little pea brains. We watch the video clips with dawnings of understanding: that we are not as strong as we think we are, that there are greater issues beyond our small circles of life, and that we humans are connected to one another.

There may be – there is – a hurricane raging in American politics, too…but there, too, the Lord is sovereign. The affairs of nation-states (all of whom are man-made) are tangential, at best, to his purposes and plans. His primary concern is for his own Kingdom, its expansion and strengthening under its rightful Ruler. That Kingdom has no earthly borders, only one path to citizenship (the all-sufficient work of his Son), no rights (all are servants to all), no walls (all are welcome), no debts but the debt of love, and no end. And, least we forget, his word has little good to say about empires.

There are hurricanes in my larger culture – raging storms of racism, fear, resentment, bitterness, violence, and so much anger. They churn division, distrust, and even death as they spin. These storms cry out for words of peace, of rest, of healing, of faith. So I sit longer with Jesus and ask him to help me be that calm, that truth, that power, that healing agent; I ask him to help me stand up in the bow of the vessel, like he did with his terrified disciples, and say to the violent wind and waves in my world, “Quiet. Be still. Have faith. Obey.”

And there are little hurricanes in my little world, too: in my marriage, in my wallet, with my kids, in my church, among dear friends and faintly friends and former friends. They swirl in irritating eddies. So I pray. I take walks, drink hot Earl Grey tea, eat popcorn, read novels, cook soup, sit on the patio and soak up the full autumn sun, hug Hannah 88 times every day, explore NASA videos with Samuel, take half-hour naps, worship with zest on Sunday morning, text my friends with love and Scripture and pictures of my children.

And in it all, the goodness of Jesus stands. It permeates. It oozes into my anxious soul and soothes it like a perfect dab of Vicks vapo-rub. It lifts my spirit like a deep inhalation of peppermint tea. It is a poultice of blessing, an elixir of hopefulness, a spiritual drug cocktail, if I may, that sets all the hormones and enzymes and blood cells in balanced, harmonious order, that gets the spiritual synapses firing in formation.

Tomorrow I’ll come back to this place – to the music, the journal, the Word – and maybe that simmering pot of anxiety won’t be there, or won’t need to be adjusted. Or maybe it will be boiling. Or maybe the Lord won’t touch it, but will let me stew in it a while while I seek him, walk through it. I don’t know. But I come anyway, because I know this one thing: my Deliverer will come, even if the stars should break faith with the sky.

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Published in: on October 9, 2016 at 2:04 am  Leave a Comment  

Camping Stories

Hannah on my left, wearing a sleeveless summer nightgown and a pair of pink pants, tucked into her pink floral sleeping bag that isn’t even zipped up.

Samuel on my right, a glow stick necklace loose around his neck, sock-less because he insisted he wouldn’t need them – a decision he would regret later in the night.

The three of us squished on a queen-size air mattress that would steadily lose air through the night, resulting in my butt or hip bones being directly on the ground. I stayed warm, as one puppy stays warm squished in the middle of the litter in a basket two sizes too small…but I was rarely comfortable.

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The squished green bag? Yeah. Mine.

And Daniel on Samuel’s right, on his self-inflating 2-inch air mattress, purchased that day in hopes it would be kinder to his still-hurting back.

All in all, nothing remarkable. Just another camping trip, all of us snuggled together, squirming, jostling for space and light, whining about the challenge of changing clothes lying down, fumbling for flashlights and glasses and the water bottle, thinking “it can’t get that cold tonight.”

But it felt different.

Our children are older now, though still young at 8 and 6, and the conversation this time was different even from six months ago (that November night when it absolutely did get that cold).

We talked about what we’d done that day, about the glow stick party out in the big field, under that waxing gibbous moon (which hardly one Cub Scout noticed, being all fully enthralled and fixated on bending, molding, and swinging their glowing sticks at each other). Daniel and I told Samuel how proud of him we were, for getting the next Cub Scout achievement, for being part of his den’s skit during the program, for playing with the other boys (Samuel is usually content to play alone). We asked Hannah what she and Madison did all day – and we should have known better, because she happily and energetically proceeded to give us a blow by blow account of every doll, every pretend game, every little thing she and her friend did.

Okay so here’s what I really want to get to: the part after we good-humoredly argued about whether or not to listen to The Hardy Boys on audio, and whether or not Mama should go sit by the campfire and do her writing “assignment.”

Taking a mental deep breath, I opted instead to make up a story to tell my kids. I know parents do this all the time, all the world over – stories totally made up, or stories from childhood (personal or passed down – sometimes rather “embellished”), or classic tales from their culture. Some parents, like Paul Fillmore, even make up songs, which is so impressive I’m in total awe.

So I took the loosest outlines of a story Colin Firth told to his daughters in his role as King George in The King’s Speech, and made up my own version about an Antarctica penguin who always wanted to wear a coat and tie, while all the other penguins wore polka dot pajamas. This penguin eventually learned he was a prince (I left out how, exactly, he learned this), and swam a long arduous journey from Antarctica to the English Channel, whereupon he hopped on board the Kensington Express and arrived back at the palace in time for tea. And lived – clad in coat and tie – happily ever after.

Oh, and his name was Flipperdegibt.

The kids roared with delight and approval. My heart soared with pride – a mix of the bad kind, that narcissistic constant craving for approval, and the good kind: I made up a story for my kids! I was creative to entertain them! What an excellent use of the gifts of storytelling and creativity – to delight easily-pleased children, to demonstrate to them that they, too, can make up their own stories, can be as creative as they wish.

My friend Dave says that when we create we are like God. God’s nature is to create, which you would think any half-awake fool could see (though of course many people are not even that awake…that’s another topic altogether). He says he suspects that’s what the Biblical phrase “in His image He created them” is referring to – our capacity to create.

I think he’s on to something. (Dave usually is.)

We returned to the good-natured debate about whether or not to listen to The Hardy Boys audio book. I tried to make the case that my making up a story more than offset the lack of The Hardy Boys – because of course in my mind it was an epic achievement – but they didn’t believe me.

I was saved by Hannah, who announced she would make up a story, eliciting a groan from Samuel and half-hearted cheers from me and Daniel.

But she didn’t so much make up a story as give us all extraordinarily insightful nicknames: Samuel was “Whiney Mae,” I was “Yellie Mae,” Daniel was “Bossy Mae” (a surprise to me, since I rarely think of Daniel as bossy, but apparently he seems such to Hannah?), and she dubbed herself “Party Mae.” Oh, and her Uncle Seth, my brother who lives with us, she gave the moniker “Mind Your Own Business Mae.”

WOW.

The girl has us pegged.

And we all laughed at our own nicknames, made other, increasingly sillier, suggestions, and basically spent the next several minutes telling inside jokes and laughing.

That air mattress shook – like Santa’s bowl full of jelly – with our belly laughs.

And I could taste the holiness in the air. Anne Lamott says laughter is carbonated holiness, and I could practically feel the fizz on my tongue.

And then we drifted to sleep. It was a terribly restless night for me, what with Hannah’s knees jammed into my left side and Samuel’s whole body jammed into my right as he sought warmth; the God-knows-what kind of concert booming its bass line from some venue across the water, until well after midnight; Samuel cold and unable to sleep, then sneezing and sniffling; Daniel scrounging for a snack bar, all the baffling and infuriating rustling like a mouse under the floor; the slow but inexorable loss of air from our mattress.

But that half hour before we drifted – the tent was filled with delightful, memorable bonding, the kind that makes your heart swell and plasters the broadest smile on your face and makes you lose all self-consciousness in the pure joy of being Family.

And the next morning – well, let’s not go there. Let’s dwell on and hold tight to that night, the tent glowing with a dozen-plus glow sticks, and bubbling with carbonated holiness.

Published in: on October 4, 2016 at 1:46 am  Comments (1)