Tag Archives: perspective

The terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week that really wasn’t

It’s not been a pretty week. In fact it’s been a down-right hairy-warts, black teeth, and yellow eyes kind of ugly.

Some of you might not know this, but my day job entails managing a large network of websites for a global IT company. This past weekend we had a major deployment to the site. I’ve been through a number of these in my career and I’m here to tell you managing online systems is not for the faint of heart. Something always goes wrong! You just pray and hope it’s not something major and it can be fixed quickly.

My team had a whole weekend of fixing and testing and sitting-on-the-edge-of-our-seats waiting. But finally, on Sunday afternoon it looked like the major issues were resolved and we wouldn’t have to roll back before New Zealand started their Monday in a few hours. My team and our IT engineers had been working nights and weekends preparing and most of them hadn’t slept at all in the last 48 hours. So it was with a huge sigh of relief that everyone was sent off to bed to rest up for the next morning.

Monday came and all felt good. The deployment was a success and I was beyond thrilled for myself and my team because we really wanted needed this one. You see, last year we had a crazy big project where we essentially re-did the entire website from the ground up (I don’t recommend this. Ever). To say it didn’t go well would be a huge understatement. We dealt with the fall-out for months afterwards and it almost sent me to the hospital. Seriously, I would feel sick every morning before I logged on to my computer, dreading what emails would come my way with complaints, rants, and new issues that cropped up over-night. I was a complete ball of stress and anxiety and it manifested into physical illness multiple times.

So when I say we needed this one to go well, let me tell you we really needed it. Monday felt good. I sent out emails proudly announcing the successful deployment. And except for a small handful of people (haters gonna hate) the response from colleagues was encouraging and positive.

Then Tuesday morning came and things were not good. The site was loading at a snail’s pace and crashing every few hours. Registration forms were not loading or they had error messages, and the dreaded emails started to roll in.

Thankfully I work with the best team in the world. Seriously. They are the smartest, hardest working, most dedicated group of people I’ve ever seen. Our engineers immediately started working with our developers to sort out the issues. Unfortunately, every time they thought they’d gotten to the bottom of it, the site would crash again.

I will skip past all of the details and reasons, as even I don’t fully understand all of the technical stuff and this isn’t a blog about website development. But let’s just say that it was Friday before the site was stabilized and that’s mostly due to temporary measures put into place. We still don’t have a solution for the root cause. And of course, I was in damage control mode as the angry emails from frustrated stakeholders flooded our in-boxes.

But.

Here’s the thing:

I did not breakdown and cry or worry myself sick, or cower under my covers and fear starting my workday. I didn’t attach myself to the laptop monitoring every email and update at all hours of the day and night or go into hiding from my family so I could focus only on work. In fact, I did the opposite. I smiled. I laughed and shook my head at some of the angry notes. I thanked our engineers for their unending dedication to resolve the issue. I slept. I sat on my porch and read a book. I watched my son perform his “bike show” he’d been rehearsing for a week in our cul de sac. I ate dinner with my kids every evening and cuddled in bed with them every night.

But most of all, I stayed close to God. I studied the word and prayed every day. And this. This is what made the difference, because I was able to maintain perspective. Instead of getting swallowed up in the worry and stress and making it all about me, I was reminded that it’s all about Him. Life is so much bigger, so much more important than some problems at work. I have little people I need to care for and nurture and love on. I have to care for and nurture myself, too. Because that ball of stress and anxiety I was last year? She was not pretty or much fun to be around. She was overwhelmed and a bit lost. And I don’t really care to meet her again.

Psalm 18: 1-2

Now, I don’t want you to get the wrong impression. I’m not saying I have this all figured out. There were still moments this week when I felt stress and worry. I got annoyed at my husband for something he did or didn’t do and let it flow into a full-blown argument. And I’m sure I yelled at my kids once or twice (sometimes I’m not sure if I’m yelling or my natural volume when speaking to my kids has just gotten that loud). But, for the most part I was able to keep things in perspective and know that it was all going to be OK.

So, as it turns out. This ugly, horrible, no good, very bad week…well it really wasn’t.

This was my prayer this week. If you want to write it down and use it next time you’re having a rough day or week, or even a rough season, please do.

Father in heaven, thank you so much for loving me and being with me this week. Lord, life is not always easy, and sometimes it’s just down-right ugly. But I take comfort in knowing that you are bigger than any of the stress, worry or ugliness that may come my way. Help me to remember this when I start to make it all about me. Remind me to give it over to you and lean on you when I need strength. You are my rock and my shield, always faithful even when I am not. Thank you, thank you. Amen.

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The beauty in the swamp

[Author’s note: This post was inspired by the featured photo of Manchac Swamp in Frenier, LA taken by Kathy Ballon, which was the winner in our Facebook photo contest.]

There I was sitting around a dinner table in South Africa with four of my colleagues trying to explain the show “Swamp People“. While a lot of American television makes its way to the South African airwaves, somehow “Swamp People” is not one of them and none of my colleagues had ever heard of it before. After 5 minutes I had all of them in that place of side-splitting, tear-inducing laughter at my description of this show that my dear husband, a Louisiana native, watches faithfully every week.

I think it was the title “Swamp People” that really did them in. I mean after-all, that title does conjure up images of slimy, scary bog monsters that come to life and roam the shore instilling fear in everyone who lives nearby. Of course, if you are familiar with the show you know it’s actually about the men and women who make their living hunting alligator — a unique sub-culture of modern Louisiana who live off the bayou and eat food like turtle soup, alligator gumbo, and boiled crawfish. They catch alligators using giant hooks baited with rotting chicken and every episode I am sure someone is going to get eaten by an angry gator. They have a very distinct accent that is as thick as their red beans and rice and use words rooted in their French-Acadian history that the rest of the U.S. population have never heard uttered. I often joke to my husband that people from the bayous of Louisiana are the only ones that speak English but still need subtitles so people can understand what they’re saying. (And lest anyone think I’m too unkind, let me set the record straight that my childhood roots include living in a mobile home in West Virginia, so believe me I get plenty of ribbing for that.)

While I like to kid and tease my husband mercilessly about the show and the kinship he feels for these alligator hunters, I know that the show is successful because those of us who didn’t grow up in that lifestyle are in awe of the bravery and brass of these people that hang out in the swamp all day. The swamp that is full of alligators, snakes, snapping turtles, giant rodents called nutria, mosquitoes and other creatures I would prefer not to spend any length of time with. The fact is, even if you don’t immediately think of a scary B-horror movie creature, when you think of the swamp you probably don’t think of a place you’d like to oh, let’s say, vacation.

But, I have been to Louisiana and toured the swamps. The truth is the swamps are also places of serene beauty where there are more shades of green than even Pantone could imagine. Where Spanish moss dangles from 200 year-old cypress trees and floating bouquets of water lilies greet you as you float down the still, quiet canals. This photo below was taken at Manchac Swamp in Frenier, LA by my mother-in-law. It’s simply stunning. Nothing about this picture says scary-death-trap to me!

Manchac Swamp in Frenier, LA
Photo by: Kathy Ballon

And this is how much of life is. We have certain places, situations, or even words that we identify as intimidating, scary, dangerous, lonely, painful or despairing. But when we look at them in a different light we are often surprised by the hope, beauty, joy, comfort, and blessing they turn out to be. My husband and I found ourselves in one such situation earlier this year when he unexpectedly lost his job.

Unemployed.

It’s a word that conjures up all kinds of unpleasant visions and is ripe with worry. Even though my husband had been unhappy at his job, the unplanned departure left us uncertain of what the future would hold. As much as we tried to stay positive and trust that the Lord would provide, as the days moved into weeks, and then into months, our faith was tested and concern evolved into uneasiness, which evolved into distress. Yet, God was with us at every step of the way. We were provided for — both financially and spiritually. Friends and family rallied around us. My husband was able to use this time to give back, volunteering in our community, to spend time with our kids as they finished the school-year, and to support me as I finished my graduate school capstone. Even in the midst of the fear and stress, we saw the beauty of these gifts.

My husband ended up finding a job in his field, near our home, working for a great company. He absolutely loves this job! He is respected and appreciated by coworkers and has opportunities for education and career advancement he didn’t have at his last job. He will tell you, without hesitation, that losing his prior job was the best thing that could have happened to him.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18

For as much as unemployment can be a place of discouragement, loneliness, and anxiety, it can also be a place of fresh-starts, opportunity, and hope. Because there is nothing we have to face in this world that is bigger than God. Nothing that He won’t use for our good. When we think we are in the dark, dangerous swamps of life, God can reveal to us the beauty and serenity of His purpose for our lives.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

What are the swamps of your life? Where have you seen beauty and blessing instead of fear and danger?

The missing blogger

It’s been three weeks since I blogged and I’m going through withdraw.

Honest to goodness withdraw pains.

I have felt a real longing in my heart to be staring at the WordPress screen and writing something. It’s been on my mind constantly, like an old friend that I haven’t spoken to in months. I guess this is how it feels to be a writer.

So what’s been keeping me away? Well it’s all good stuff. All important things. Getting kids ready for back-to-school; volunteering at said school which moved into a beautiful old building this summer and has needed help with renovations and preparations for the new year; helping to prepare for church services; a few dates with my husband; a long-needed day with my sister; fixing up my front porch. And of course that pesky day job of mine (for which I have a renewed love and energy since my trip to our home office in South Africa a few weeks ago). You know, just life.

haircuts
Back-to-school haircuts for three — definitely on the to-do list.
outdoor office
Focusing on my “day job”. One of the perks of working from home is having an outside office.
front porch
Fixing up the front porch. Isn’t it cute?
the school
Discussing school renovations after a PTO meeting.

 

There isn’t anything new on the list, it just seems it all came at me in abundance in the last three weeks and left me with no time or creative energy in the evenings to write. And this, I think, is the struggle for all blogger/writers/artists/creative types who pursue their creative love and passion in the midst of a busy, fulfilling, beautifully messy life.

I’ve been reading Lysa TerKeurst’s new book “The Best Yes” in small snippets over the last few weeks. One of the things she talks about is how we can find the best “good choice”. You see everything I listed above, everything I devote time to are good things. Good choices. But each “yes” to one of those inevitably means a “no” to some other good choice because there are only 24 hours in the day and this girl needs sleep to function.

So how do we choose which things to say yes to and which to put on hold? How do we avoid putting our creative love on the back-burner in favor of the persistently practical?

Slow the Rush - The Best Yes
Courtesy of Lysa TerKeurst. http://thebestyes.com/

 

Well, I didn’t say I’d finished the book, did I? I don’t know the answer. All I can say is that I know the things that have been pulling my time and attention the last three weeks are seasonal. I only have to get the kids ready for school once a year. After the renovations and repairs are done on the new location the school will need less of my time. After we’re done planning and preparing for the next series at church there will be several weeks before we have to start on the next one. I also know that saying “yes” to these things is directly impacting and helping others.

So, I choose to say “yes” to the things that have the greatest pressing need right now. Where I can do the most good or have the greatest impact in this moment. But I do it carefully. I don’t say “yes” to every request. Then I remind myself that saying “yes” to those things doesn’t mean I’m saying a permanent “no” to my writing.  And…I try to stay in tune with my body and my emotions. When that dull ache of desire to write turns into an all-consuming need, it’s time to stop and let myself have that moment.

I don’t claim to have discovered the perfect method. In fact I fail miserably at saying yes to the right things all the time. Or more often I fail at saying yes to the right amount of things and find myself completely overwhelmed. But, I’m getting better. These days I’m trying to listen to my inner voice a bit more. To honor the woman inside who is many things, but can’t be all things at once or she will drown.

So. Today, right now, I’m fulfilling the writer in me and ignoring the laundry, and the dishes, and the emails, and the school, and even my kids, for one hour. Just one hour on a Saturday morning. Because I needed to find her and give her what she needs to keep thriving.

Baby steps.

 

 

What is your Goliath?

I wrote earlier this week about how my Sunday morning didn’t get off to a good start. Thankfully, with some Godly intervention, I was in a much better frame of mind once worship service started. A good thing for me because it was one of the best sermons I’ve ever heard. We’ve been studying 1st and 2nd Samuel this summer at GCC North, and most recently the story of David. This Sunday the focus was on 1 Samuel 17 which chronicles the well-told story of David and Goliath.

David and Goliath is probably one of the best-known stories in the Bible. It’s the original under-dog story, and Hollywood should thank Samuel for providing the plot line for 50% of all movies ever made. But honestly? I’ve never really found it all that applicable to my life. I mean, it’s a great example of putting your trust in the Lord, but I’ve just never been able to relate to the young shepherd boy who defeated the giant warrior with nothing but a slingshot and a prayer. This Sunday, though, my friend and Pastor, Lee Reams, managed to give us a fresh view of David and Goliath as well as some practical application.

Lee set the tone for the sermon by presenting David and Goliath…MLB style! Check out these awesome trading cards he made for our antagonist and hero:

goliath_front goliath_back
david_front david_back

On paper, David might seem an unlikely foe for the colossal warrior. But David never had any doubt he could beat Goliath. His faith was so strong, and his trust in the Lord so steadfast that he almost seemed matter-of-fact about the whole situation when speaking to King Saul. Lee broke it down into five things (a metaphor for the five smooth stones David picks up before going to the front-line) that equipped David to feel this way. They were: Perspective, Experience, Identity, Knowledge, and Child-like Faith.

Perspective – “David asked the soldiers standing nearby, “What will a man get for killing this Philistine and ending his defiance of Israel? Who is this pagan Philistine anyway, that he is allowed to defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Samuel 17:26). David’s faith in God allowed him to be able to look at Goliath with a different perspective. He saw him simply as a mortal man defying an all-powerful God.

Experience – “I have been taking care of my father’s sheep and goats,” he said. “When a lion or a bear comes to steal a lamb from the flock, I go after it with a club and rescue the lamb from its mouth. If the animal turns on me, I catch it by the jaw and club it to death” (1 Samuel 17:34-35). David’s experience as a shepherd gave him strength and confidence to battle Goliath.

Identity – “He picked up five smooth stones from a stream and put them into his shepherd’s bag. Then, armed only with his shepherd’s staff and sling, he started across the valley to fight the Philistine” (1 Samuel 17:40). David rejected the armor Saul offered him. He knew he was a shepherd, not a soldier, and relied on the tools of his trade.

Knowledge – “And everyone assembled here will know that the Lord rescues his people, but not with sword and spear. This is the Lord’s battle, and he will give you to us!” (1 Samuel 17:47). David knew that God was in charge of the situation and would protect him.

Child-like Faith – “As Goliath moved closer to attack, David quickly ran out to meet him” (1 Samuel 17:48). David didn’t hesitate, or weigh the pro’s and con’s of fighting Goliath, or try to plan out a detailed strategy. He just ran straight to the battle-line with complete faith that God was in control.

While all of the above are valuable tools that God has equipped us with, the one that stands out the most for me is perspective. How often in my life have I experienced challenges, struggles, hurt, or conflict that could have been avoided if I had simply altered my perspective of the situation?

Then Lee asked us to think about what “Goliath(s)” we were facing in our lives. What are those things that we feel are too big, too unbeatable? It could be an illness, a broken relationship, an addiction — anything really. I wrote down four: stress, lack of patience, the future, and my health. What startled me about my list is that it’s all me. My adversaries are all internal and they are things that (with God’s help) I can change or overcome. Do you know what that means? I am my own Goliath! And for at least the first three of my items, a little perspective could have a HUGE impact. So to help me maintain that perspective, I decided to create my own trading cards and keep them in my Bible as a little reminder. Here they are:

Jelise's trading card
Scary Jelise trading card

Stressed and impatient Jelise is not a pretty sight, huh? She’s my Goliath…looming large and scary, seemingly undefeatable. But the reality is that God has equipped me with all of the tools I need to beat her.

What is your Goliath? How can a little perspective, knowledge, experience, identity, or child-like faith help you to defeat your biggest, scariest struggles?

 

[A very big thanks to Lee Reams for allowing me to steal his sermon and use his trading card images for my blog!]