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Who took the lane lines?

I thought I was just too early for Master swim when all I saw were four bright orange rescue rings floating on the surface of the pool. It turned out the absence of lane markers was on purpose. Today’s workout would be free-form. “Choose a direction and swim outside the rings. Pull a few, kick a few, swim a few, whatever you feel like.”

Today we were doing the pool imitation of an “open water swim.”

Actual open water events are pretty much free-for-alls, with every swimmer fending for him or herself. There’s climbing and clawing and a sprint to the front in order to avoid the same. And if the dark, choppy water doesn’t provide ample challenge, there’s the matter of keeping your bearings… and contending with cramps, hypothermia, injury or exhaustion. Of course, for those swimmers who cannot continue, rescue boats are close at hand.

None of this happened at the neighborhood swimming pool today.

At least not to me. Because, after jumping in, swimming a few strokes, looking up every two or three to be sure I wasn’t gonna clobber another swimmer, then taking extra irregular breaths to gauge my bearings per the buoys, then preferentially stroking with right arm to navigate the turning radius, I completed one lap and climbed out.

“This just isn’t my thing,” I apologized to the guy who set up the course. “I come here more for the Zen.”

But what I really meant was, “This is totally nuts!” There’s no way I voluntarily subject myself to an hour of dizzily circling the pool while hyperventilating in fear of ramming somebody. All that just because nobody set up the lane lines…

One of the guys called to me as I was leaving, “What’s the matter? Don’t like the waves?”

Nope. It wasn’t the waves. Effort I am okay with. It was the tight turns and uncertainty I objected to. It felt… debilitating.

Wow. As soon as I named the feeling, it all made sense. This open-water swim felt like the year and a half we’ve been living. Our orange buoys — pandemic, climate change, injustice and cultural division — have set us a-spin. They’ve changed all our rules. Boundaries we thought were fixed have now moved. Truth may not be true. Our friend may not be our friend. The system we thought was fair, isn’t. Temperatures trending upward may not be temporary.

What we thought was unchangeable isn’t; the world can change in a minute.

Life right now feels like an open water swim, and even if you’re a good swimmer, it’s disconcerting and dizzying. Our opportunities for collective Zen have gone missing.

I need to inject more of my life with stuff like organized Master Swim. I need lane lines, a planned workout, the right equipment, a clean, well-kept space and some hearty companions. Because in that space, even and especially after supplying maximum effort, I find peace — the peace that settles my mind and clears my head, the peace that trains my heart and uplifts my soul.

How I am longing for structure, discipline, order and clear expectations where I can be free to supply my effort, my skills and my talents to contribute to my world as it is and make it better. To find a bit of good news and amplify it. To uncover a good idea and inspire a group to pursue it. To lift up the work of others who are on track toward something great. And to lend a hand where I can.

Because this head-spinning time needs a-righting. And getting out of the pool isn’t an option.


What if Order is Essential and Distraction Denies?

My mind works differently now and I think it’s technology’s fault. I don’t think I’m alone. Everybody’s doing it. Flitting from one screen to the  next, one conversation to the next, one opportunity to the next. All without taking a breath. And we have to, right? I mean how otherwise could we Black Friday shop and follow the football play by play at the same time? Don’t get me started on texting and driving.

But now that I’ve mentioned it…adults, especially older or middle-aged adults are the worst. We think we can be on our screens and drive, deftly diving from one to the next without compromising either. No. Young people are more adept at this. They can actually accomplish texting and driving, giving little to no dedicated thought to either. Their brains are agile, jumping from one to the other. It’s when a “really good conversation” captures them that the driving takes a back seat. This is unfortunate when you are in the driver’s seat.

Okay, I’m back now. How I process information is surely changing. I scan instead of reading in depth. I look for bold print or bullet points so I can get the main idea without investing too much attention. I have multiple sources in front of me as I consider the latest topic. I scroll through multiple posts or links or articles, and my mind knows this. In fact, it expects it, and I feel like modifications have taken place so it can dabble instead of diving. Occasionally I stop to consider or to comment, but rarely.

Undivided attention, focus, deep reflection – these have gone missing. I watch my kids working on projects or papers. They have multiple tabs open, the tv on, the radio blaring, their phone receiving texts or emails or a words-with-friends prompt…and I am astounded. I wonder at the competition between the senses. How do they know which to attend to? Whatever happened to order? To first things first? To one thing at a time? How indeed can we know what should come first?

I have this on the brain as I read Matthew 9:1-8. Jesus heals the paralyzed man whom the friends brought, saying your sins are forgiven. Then, as if to drive the point home, Jesus tells the man to stand up and walk. True confession, this story has always confused me. Perhaps my modern day understanding is lacking the historical relating sins to sickness, but which one gives better evidence of Jesus’ authority, forgiving sins or physical healing? And in what order?

In a brief moment of deep reflection (with thanks to Robert Stephens, the author of the Upper Room meditation on November 30) I realized that order makes all the difference. Once Jesus healed the spirit, walking came easily to the man. The latter, testifying to the former.

Of course! First things first! Restoring order is what Christ is about on this earth. From the first thing, all the other things come.

Otherwise, everything either becomes:

  1. Me first – now lead yourself  OR
  2. Everything at once so no one goes first. Then you have mobs like Herald Square on Black Friday (and even Thanksgiving Thursday) where $300 purses have zippers torn open as they are flung aside for the next shiny item.

Personally, I prefer order. Stand in line and wait your turn. Or go online at a time of your choosing. But first, adopt the mind of Christ. Then, it may not make sense to waste all that time in line or online. There may be something much more important to tend to. One thing, from which all the others follow, naturally.

In fact, focus on that one thing may be exactly what is needed to solidify that pathway. To actually learn, commit it to memory and make it available for retrieval. A firm foundation rather than a flimsy stalk of an idea. Otherwise, in our rush to build here… no now over here…oops, now back this way… our brain may begin to resemble a graveyard of unfinished pathways waiting to be rattled, tipped or concussed by the next strong force that comes our way.

In a society where attention is on the decline and ADD and concussions are on the rise, could it perhaps be wise to spend some dedicated time focusing on what comes first? Call it prayer or meditation or the great cloud of knowing, but can we focus on One thing?

Order, it may be just the cure our society’s ills dearly need.

If I worry am I bad?

My friend says, “I am not a worrier.”  Is that possible? Real? True?

Worry and I have known each other a long time. I can’t say I don’t worry. Can’t say I won’t worry. Worry butts in every now and then and, actually, I think that is a healthy thing for me now. But it hasn’t always been that way.

Worry used to:

  • have me predicting a negative future I had no facts to support or
  • have me imagining a fictional horror story about my child who was late coming home
  • stop me from starting something that held great promise but came with significant risk

Yes. I have a worry button that has launched me into all these places. Still do. But I know its secret. It’s a signal. An alarm. Like the back up beep in my new techno-advanced car. It lets me know I am close to something I don’t want to hit or heading in a direction I may not want to go. This is okay with me. I am happy to have the heads-up.

Then I can decide whether to acknowledge the alarm and slow down, turn more sharply, or avoid the object in my blind spot. Decide rather than react. Reaction has me slamming on the breaks or stomping on the gas. Deciding allows me to maneuver.

This takes me to a conversation I had a while back with my then middle school aged daughter. We had just listened to a sermon by Tom, our pastor, who confessed that his cholesterol was way too high. Now, this man is exceedingly thin – some might say gaunt – but is known for his propensity to eat in large quantities. My daughter and I do not tend toward natural thinness; we wear what we eat.

“Aren’t we lucky,” I told her, “the scale tells us when our eating has been less than healthy. Tom has to wait for the blood work.”

I see the worry button as somewhat akin to the scale. Except it’s built in. It alerts us when something demands our attention. We can lay on the button and rush headlong into I-have-do-something-now mode or we can ignore it and let the chips fall as they may. Either of these can have dire consequences. Because it’s part of me, been placed in me by the Hand that created me, I don’t think it’s meant for either of these.

It is there to get my attention, but it’s accessible to the world. It has to be if I want to respond to the needs of the world. But I need to guard it. Because a powerful hand that is not God’s can push it. And the old conversations start again…he’s gonna say this, she’s gonna do this, you need to set them straight, this might be embarrassing…

The old conversations return. I hear them whispering to me. But I am not beholden to those old conversations. I can choose to turn off the button, flip the switch and say, nope, not responding to that alarm. But to shut it off before I hear the siren call of demise means I have to be extremely tuned in. I have to turn up the sensation on my worry alarm. This leaves me more sensitive to needs, even my own. Things hurt me. Sounds deafen me. Words offend me.

But this is the place of honest hearing. Where I hear the whisper that says, “Wendy, this needs your attention. You haven’t spoken this. You need to clean this up. You must write this, call them, submit this.” This voice I recognize as the One who works all things for my good, but chooses never to force me to comply.

He created me with a worry button with one face exposed to the world. The other face of it is His to tap. To turn my attention to Him and what He loves. And that includes me.


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