Not a Tame Lion, Not Even Close – A Few Things I Learned in Budapest

Observations from a recovering mind.

I’m home. Sick. Mostly recovering. And making sure none of my coworkers catch this.

Our grand adventure in Budapest included days and days of high fever and sickness. But that wasn’t all. Not even close.

The best thing about the trip was seeing our youngest daughter. It’s amazing to watch someone you’ve known for so long soar to new heights—to witness qualities previously not noticed bubble upward. That was the biggest gift of Budapest – glimpsing this incredible person spread her wings.

But that wasn’t the only thing I saw.

I didn’t know as much as I thought I did.

Despite days curled up in bed fighting fever and sickness, my approach to life shifted from observer to participant. I’m still unwrapping this package so I don’t have much more to share. Except for the discovery that there appears to be a rather large chasm between knowing a lot about God and actually knowing him.

The first one doesn’t change a person, and the second will not leave you unchanged. I’m changing. And it’s both incredible and terrifying.  

I’m starting to understand how God is not a tame lion.

My previous comprehension of the Almighty has failed to experience this. I’ve pranced around as if I could understand him. Thankfully, being sick for a few days forced my blithe feet to the floor and enlightened me a little.

In the face of the unknown, I depended on myself. Or so it seemed. There was no holy pleading for help or plaintive whisperings to the divine. It was all me. Sick and feeling awful.

But he delivered me anyway. Through the triumphal prayers of friends, he erased the torture from my eyes and settled me into peaceful slumber.

God is not merely a loving friend, but also a fierce enemy. Enemy to the evil lurking under my skin that has poisoned me into thinking I could rely on myself.

He’s kind and fierce.

I can no longer attempt to figure out all that he is. Instead, I rest here – stand here in awe. He is who he is. And that has been and always will be enough.

I started this with how it was a gift to get to see my daughter – to see who she is, in action. That’s how I long to see God – who he is, in action.

Not me saying he’s strong and then defining that strength for him, but me standing there watching while he annihilates a room of monsters with one breath.

I saw him in Budapest. I hardly prayed. Didn’t read my bible. Didn’t help the poor. I fell ill, lost my piety, and fell on my back pleading to not shut my eyes to see whatever the fever would bring. And God Almighty was there. Silent and strong. He never left me alone, and I didn’t deserve that.

So, here we go. Back to life, but not back to the same life. I went through something during our little trial of sickness, and now I’m here fumbling to make sense of the next step, and how I can be different when nothing else has apparently changed.

There are no answers or lists or plans that I can make.

No, there’s just the repairing of my weapons with my ears ever listening and hoping to recognize the voice of Almighty God. 

Blessings to you, sweet friends. May your journey reveal more of our Lord to you. And please, feel free to share what you find out!

When It’s Time for the Dream to Go

Letting go of my dream isn’t something I thought I would ever consider.

Over the weekend, I had a meltdown, though. I got to the middle of my Saturday and realized I’ve been spending my life in one place while the whole time I’m longing to be somewhere else.

That sounds awful, doesn’t it? It feels awful. It’s like I’m in prison—trapped behind walls made of my own hopes and dreams. The hopes and dreams aren’t bad, but me sitting with my arms crossed and my lip out because I need to do the laundry instead of soar with the eagles is killing me.  

The Lie of the Lists

John Lennon said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making plans.”

I’ve been doing that. I’ve been wishing away my here and now so I could get to my future.

I cannot tell you how many lists I’ve made. How I’ve calculated my days to the minute so I could have time to write. I’ve accounted for every part of my life, filling spaces with my plans for my future to make my dream come true.

Called to Stop

And it’s all been in the name of my calling.

Knowing your calling is a blessing, a gift. But learning to balance that gift with the life you’ve been given … well, that’s not so easy. I would write all the time. Lock myself away and write, write, write. I love it. And I know God has gifted me and called me to write.

But he’s also told me to stop.

He’s asked something of me I hadn’t expected– to lay it down, to look people in the eye and listen when they talk, to be 100% right where I am, and to stop wishing away my moments.

I’ve been fighting him on this. I don’t even know what this stopping looks like. I’ve spent the last 8 years pursuing my dream. I have lived and breathed writing. Every spare moment, every day, whenever I can, I write. Seriously, it’s like I’m a writing junkie.

Without Love It’s Nothing

And the ugly truth is my dream — this calling — has eclipsed love. Oh sure, I can say I’m doing it because I love God and people and want to bring him glory and help others, but I’m starting to think that’s just what I’m telling myself so I don’t feel bad about ignoring people.

So, I’m stopping my madness. Slowing down. Being disciplined (the sit-in-a-corner kind). I cried the first few days, but now all I feel is thankfulness. I can’t even explain it or what will happen, but I can say without hesitation that I’m freer today than I was a week ago. It’s a good thing. A very good thing. And I don’t know what’s next, but I guess for now I don’t need to. This little warrior is handing over her sword and taking a day at a time.

And when you talk to me, I’ll be listening, looking you in the eye, and caring. (And I promise I’ll let you know before I use you in a story.)

Eavesdropping My Way to the Final Frontier – Stop Dwelling on the Bad Stuff

Eavesdropping for the Stories

My eavesdropping landed me in an angry position the other day. And yes, I listen in on conversations. Is it rude? I suppose it could be.

The way I see it, though, if you’re in a public place, talking with a normal voice, then what you say is fair game. My husband refers to this as voyeurism, but that seems to have a negative connotation to it that I refuse to own.

My listening is for educational reasons. I can’t help it if I’m interested in what others have to say. And I promise I don’t judge. I do sometimes use those conversations in my writing so I guess it’s actually a work-related activity.

Take the conversation I overheard while out for a romantic dinner with my hubby. We sat at a cozy table-for-two that backed right up to a booth where two couples sat, laughing and having a grand time. It was really impossible not to hear what they were saying. This was especially true when I heard my name said several times.

Dwelling on the Poor Mary Beth

I don’t know many Mary Beth’s. Maybe just a handful, so to hear people talking about Mary Beth made me lean a little closer to the backs of their heads.

Of course, it might have been better if I hadn’t listened. Evidently, they didn’t really like their Mary Beth. Poor thing. From what I could gather she annoyed them. A lot

By the time I finished my flounder in a bag—very grateful for the waitress who had the sweet insight to tell me not to eat the bag—they were still dropping a Mary Beth reference here and there. I almost introduced myself, but decided to tune them out and start paying attention to my date.

The Faith Frontier

However, it did strike me odd how much they talked about someone they didn’t like. If she’s such a bother, why keep bringing her up during your expensive meal?

Of course, I do that all the time. (Not talk about other Mary Beth’s)—dwell on the things that bother me.

It makes no sense, but I’ll go over and over something. Think about it. Talk about it. Pray about it. (Yeah, usually in that order.) And come to the same conclusion. There’s nothing I can do. And then I start over because there’s got to be an answer, right?

I have noticed that the more I trust God the less I go over my worry script. And I mean TRUST HIM, not say that I trust him while I’m still trying to figure it out on my own.

That kind of trust is a frontier. The Faith Frontier. There’s not a formula for it. It probably looks different on each of us, but it comes down to the same thing. Moving the conversation from the problem into the hands of the solution—moving forward with simple faith. Believing Him. Trusting. Knowing.

How about you? Are you ready to simply believe and know that God will take care of you? 

Shining a Light on the Terrible – Let the Truth Fight for You

I’m trying to write a horror story. The concept came easily enough, but I’m finding I keep procrastinating when it comes to getting down to the details. My empathetic heart finds it disturbing to get into the mind of someone succumbing to the dark side.

I don’t even watch scary movies, and most of my stories, though sometimes weird, haven’t veered off into the world of the terrible. Until now. Now, I’m trying to stretch myself and make it as a writer, and this story was the only one that fit the submission guidelines for this publisher.

So, I keep glancing that direction, knowing what I need to do, but putting it off.

This isn’t just happening with my writing either.

Don’t Look at the Terrible 

Lately, I’ve had to face some facts. It’s not been easy, and it’s brought me to a crossroads.

I hadn’t been wanting to deal with any of it because if what I think is true, then it’s terrible and heartbreaking and painful.

To avoid the anguish, I’ve hesitated to take a long, hard look at the facts. I’ve glanced at them, skirted them, and denied the obvious.

Maybe if I keep everything right where it is, it will somehow get better.

Of course, that hasn’t gotten my story written for me. And it’s not worked for the last two years as I’ve kept my mouth shut and ignored excuse after excuse.

Facing the Monster

So, I decided to face down the terrible. I spoke truth to someone, and it hurt them. It hurt me too. And I could very well have been wrong about it all. Maybe all those facts didn’t really add up to what I thought they did. I don’t know.

But I did discover one thing. There’s freedom in the truth. The terrible can’t survive the true. Truth deflates it and makes it not so scary. Even the ugliest of things can be put in their horrible place with a little bit of truth, light, and perspective.

A very wise person told me recently that the truth can run around naked. It’s the lies we need to worry about covering up. I don’t want to be the kind of person who covers up stuff—who ignores the obvious because it’s hard to deal with.

Warriors don’t do that.

Flipping on the Light

Battles aren’t won by lying down and accepting someone else’s warped reality. If they’re ever to be freed from the beast, then someone might just need to fight for them, and that fighting might look harsh and mean, but it’s not. It’s the most loving thing we can ever do – to not let someone continue in their lying.

So, I’m flipping on a light. If I’m wrong, then let the truth come out. And if I’m right then maybe this person will see how much I love them. Do you have someone you need to confront? A horror story you need to whip into shape?

Honesty is a good place to start. 

 

 

More Living Gets Done When We Listen to the Nudges

MB Dahl, Writer, Warrior, RagamuffinI’m going to share a gem with you.

Well, it’s not exactly a “gem,” and you might already know it. And if you’re accustomed to listening to your heart, then this won’t be news for you.

But if you’re not—if you sometimes make things harder for yourself than they need to be, then maybe this will help.

It’s something I learned from writing.

Many times (like 90%) when someone points out something in my writing, it will be something I noticed earlier. Sometimes I didn’t realize I noticed it. It would have been a feeling—a slight bump as I plowed through a page.

Um, Let’s Try This Again

This happened a lot in my day job. I write documentation and marketing materials for a software company. When I’d first submit something for approval, I would often get it back with tons of suggestions, and after a while I started to notice if I’d paid attention to how something made me feel when I read over it, I would have made the corrections myself before my supervisor every saw it.

This technique is working for me (and my supervisor’s much happier).

That sounds easy enough. Even romantic. Listen to your heart. Take heed to how you feel.

But it’s much more practical than that.

More - The word for 2017 - MB DahlPut Some Action to the Nudge

It requires more than simply paying attention. It involves slowing down, thinking, making an effort, and not moving on until I’ve gotten it right.

Did you catch that?

Sometimes I settle. (Gasp) I know a sentence or phrase isn’t right, but I figure it’s good enough. A plot twist evokes discomfort, and I figure that’s just me. No one else will notice.

I do this in life too. I give up, let go, settle. It occurs in the little and the big. From throwing my covers haphazardly onto the bed to figuring it won’t matter if I speak up.

But it does matter.

I think part of us already knows that. It senses a loss when we flip on the TV instead of sit down to write. We feel it—we feel a prodding toward more. That this isn’t all there is. That we can have more in life. Live bigger. Love greater.

We just don’t because we keep plowing through our pages ignoring the whispers and questions and problems—thinking maybe no one else will notice, and it’s not that bad.

mb dahl, warrior, philippians 2:15More Life than You Can Imagine

So, here’s the gem – God created you in his image. And as long as those little nudges don’t oppose him then pay attention! He might be trying to draw you into a deeper life. Trust him and believe in who he’s calling you to be.   Life holds more for you. Listen and then do something. Ignoring the problems and shortcomings won’t fix them, and until we slow down and deal with the junk, it’s not going anywhere.

You can do this. God will guide you through it.

Now excuse me while I go fix a paragraph I ignored when I was editing last night! Peace!

Falling without a Clue or Making Life Count – You Choose

Flying scares me. Yeah, I know it’s safer than driving, and a person’s more likely to die from a bee sting than a plane crash, but it still scares me.

I’ve been reading Charles Duhigg’s book Smarter Faster Better, and he spends a lot of time in Chapter 3 reviewing the cause of a plane crash. And it’s really bugging me.

Focusing on the Blinking Light

It took the pilots three minutes to lose total control of the aircraft, and the worst part is if they would have done nothing when the alarm first sounded, they would have probably been okay. It was one error after another and an inability to focus on the things that really mattered that led their plane into the Atlantic.

And that freaks me out—it scares me more than planes.

A downward spiral, one mistake after another, and a misleading blinking light that’s telling you to pull up and run instead of put your nose down and face it head on. The blinking light—that’s what you see, not the ten other gauges showing you the simple answer to your problem.

Missing the Point

It scares me how a smart, strong person could lose sight of truth like that. It doesn’t just happen in planes, does it?

It happens every time we forget our priorities—when we forget how things should look—when we react instead of respond.  It rides on the wings of resolutions not kept, dreams forgotten, and smart excuses that make perfect sense.

It’s not really about the mistakes made. It’s about missing the point.

Right before the plane crashed the pilot asked, “How did this happen?” He really had no clue.  The plane fell 37,000 feet and he didn’t realize it.

Falling without a Clue

I think people do that with their lives. They live their lives falling and never realize it. Addiction, lies, challenges, mediocrity, and one day they find it’s over, and they never really did anything with it.

That scares me.

I want to add a line in here about how God helps us and makes it okay, but I can’t. That’s not guaranteed just because He’s loving and cares. The prodigal son still had to come home. Those guys with the “talents” still had to do something with them.

We make choices, and those choices play a part in where we end up. I think God can help us make the right choices, but even in that we must choose to set aside our own understanding and seek him. In the plane scenario, the pilot could have waited for the Captain (who was resting), but he didn’t. He did what he thought was best, and he was wrong.

Help for the Fallen

And I wonder where am I doing that? Where in my life do I think I know better? Where am I falling and don’t even realize it?

We can’t do this alone. No amount of understanding, list making, or planning will save us when we are focusing on the wrong things. But the good news is we don’t have to be alone. Ever. There is hope for the falling.

 

Make a List– The Things You Should Bring to Get the Most Out of Life

I love moving into a new year. Much like mornings and Mondays and the chance to start fresh, the switch from one year to the next lets you leave behind the junk and instead hope for better. It’s the start of a new journey—a trip to dates in time you’ve never been before. 

A List for the Journey

I have a friend who has compiled lists for all her potential trips. When she prepares for a trip to the beach, or camping, or to the grandparents, she pulls up the list.

That got me thinking. Maybe before a trip/journey/new life experience, we should make out a list of the things we want to take with us. Not the beach blankets, sunscreen, and snorkel. Other things. Things you can’t pack in a suitcase.

The Epiphany of the List

Recently, I realized that it’s to my benefit to have thought through a few things before I march into something new. This epiphany came to me by accident. I team-teach the college and career’s class at my church. The people in the class are great and attentive, but I found that I would leave my Sunday’s of teaching feeling like a failure. Sometimes I could pinpoint it to one particular event. My stuttering through an explanation or asking one of those stupidly obvious questions, but a lot of times, the feeling didn’t have an apparent cause.

And then a few weeks ago, something changed.

Before class, I thought through how I wanted it to go, how I wanted to behave in there, what I had to bring, and I reminded myself that the real teaching comes through the Holy Spirit not through anything “brilliant” I might say. I went in expectantly—not expecting to fail, expecting to learn—to see God at work. And I left class, not feeling successful, but feeling stronger. I’m not sure if that’s the right word. Not stronger in myself, but stronger in life, in God—that spirit of power, and love, and self-discipline at work in me.

The Challenge of the List

So here’s my challenge to you:

As you go into the next thing, whether it’s a new job, new relationship, long trip, new school, or whatever, make a few lists before you go.

Write up all the things you’re going to take with you—the parts of who you are that you want to remember and be true to—your goals, your morals, your ethics, your faith. Write them down and remember them when challenges come your way.

Make a list of what you want to get from your new experience—what do you want to learn? What stories do you want to have? What kind of person do you want to be? Write them down and think of them as you make decisions and move from one thing to the next.

List truths that will not change—that you’re never alone, that God loves you, that people care about you, that you can make a difference, that you have a purpose. Write them down for the hard and lonely times.

And that’s all.

A few lists, a lot of thinking, and you coming at life instead of letting life come at you. Put your lists on cards and carry them, and charge onward, warrior—go in the power, love, and self-discipline that is already yours.

 

I Honk Because I Care – Loving Strangers, Speaking Truth

I honked at someone this morning. Judging from her surprised expression, she had no idea I was there.

Now, I feel bad about it.

In person, I would never “honk” at someone. They might cut me off in line or follow too closely as I walk the mall, but I wouldn’t say anything … at least not loud enough for them to hear me. But put me in a car, and I honk away.

Honk – A Friendly Reminder

I’ve honked at people who are about to back into me or come over into my lane. I’ve given a wake-up call to the guy at the stop light who, judging from the angle of his head, is either napping, looking at his phone, or praying. And I’ve blasted the person who zoomed by after tailgating me. That last one proved to be a scary encounter when Mr. Speedy slammed on his brakes. I thought he might turn around and come after me.

Recently, I’d decided I wouldn’t honk at people anymore. But then this morning, I broke it. I honked, and I think some young woman’s tender heart may have been hurt.

But maybe not.

Honking = Caring

Maybe my little honk inspired her to be a little more aware (of stop signs). Perhaps my honking in the morning prevented an accident in the afternoon. Because I pointed out her mistake, she could use that knowledge when the next driver might not notice her impending collision with his path. Maybe the tooting of my horn saved a life.

That might be a stretch, but it’s not a stretch to say we’re all in this together.

I once had a complete stranger come up to me and point out that my sitting on my boyfriend’s lap was inappropriate. We were in a chair-deprived public area, and he’d offered to hold on to me while we waited there. I felt awkward and silly, but I sat there anyway not wanting to hurt his feelings.

And in that crowded place someone noticed me. After I’d gotten up, she sought me out and said I seemed like a nice girl, but me sitting there with my boyfriend holding on to me didn’t look appropriate. It bothered me, but my little 16-year-old-self heard something in her words. I heard appearances matter– and I heard that I matter.

When you’re a kid and you see other people doing things they probably shouldn’t, and no one’s saying anything about those things, then you go with the flow. But she stopped that. This stranger stepped out of the crowd and honked at me.

She made me aware of something. She got me to take a look at myself and think. And in a little way, she helped me stand up for myself.

Have you ever spoken to a stranger like that?

I haven’t. I might see a young girl looking uncomfortable and unsure, but I’d never pry into her business or challenge her to raise a standard. 

Why is that? Fear? Pride? Ignorance? Who am I to tell you how to live?  Yeah, that sounds about right, but it’s not. 

A Honking Responsibility

We have a responsibility to honk at one another– let each other know when we’re wandering a little too far. It doesn’t have to be an ugly thing. It can be an action of love– it can be me saying you matter, and I care. None of us have everything right. But some things that are obvious to you still elude me. I need you to speak up and share your thoughts, even if I don’t agree with them. It helps me be a better person.

So honk at me when I’m sitting at the stoplight daydreaming. Speak your opinion. Share your thoughts.

Even if it doesn’t feel good at the time, it is good because it’s real and honest, and the more we can learn how to hear correction or opinions from others and share our own, then the more chances we all have to figure out who we are and how to get to where we need to go without hurting ourselves or anyone else.

Honk, honk!

Finding the Perfect Gift in 24 Hours or Less

Some of the best gifts are homemade (my husband made these guys!)

The Perfect Gift

Christmas is one day away, and I’m still trying to come up with a super meaningful gift for my sweet loved ones.

Every year I make something for my kids, but this year’s been kind of busy and I haven’t been able to come up with anything new. In the past, I’ve done the jar of inspiration, special notebooks of memories, Shutterfly books, and calendar collages. But this year I want to give them more. Something with more meaning and depth.

But what?

The few ideas I have had will take more time than I have left or are too similar to what I’ve done in the past. It’s so hard to make each year better than the last.

Do you have this problem?

I know Christmas isn’t about the gifts. Just spending our day together will be a blessing all on its own, but still I’m driven to give them something more meaningful than that thing at the top of their list. But what is this meaningful, creative, unusual thing?

The Bad Idea

I did have one idea I started to do. It involved the internet and a fake email account, but it got to a point where I started to feel very uncomfortable so I stopped. Probably a good thing, since my kids are kind of private and putting their life story out on the internet for everyone to comment on would not have been a “gift” at all.

So, I’m back to square one. How to find the perfect gift.

I think the first step is to probably let go of the idea of “a perfect gift.” It’s way too subjective. What I think might be brilliant and wonderful (internet scrapbook of life) might not be seen with the same fondness by someone else.

The next thing I probably need to do is get everything back into perspective. Love isn’t something that’s shown one day a year. It’s really an ongoing thing, and me coming up with a great gift won’t change that. The really important gifts we give people aren’t usually wrapped with a bow on top. They are things like time, caring, kindness, and they last longer than a tin of homemade cookies.

Making it More

And finally, I guess I should go back and read my last blog post. All this gift giving and Christmas busyness should and can mean more than just being the same things we do year after year. They can be acts of worship. Quiet, tangible reminders that Christmas is about more. It’s about life, hope, faith, peace, joy, and love. It’s about the perfect gift of love.

I’m not going to be able to top that.

May all that we do over the next few days bring us back to the love, sacrifice, and completeness of God—what he has done for us and what he promises to do.

Merry Christmas!

A New Perspective on the Busy Days of Christmas

I had intended for this week’s theme to be tips for getting past the crazy busyness of the holidays to find a place of peace. That didn’t happen, though. I got busy—so busy I almost didn’t write a blog post! Eeep!

Being “busy” sucks the joy out of just about anything. Rushing to the party, losing sleep to wrap packages, rattling off the Christmas carol without much thought – all dangers of a busy season. And all precursors to missing the point of it all. 

“Whatcha Doin’?”

My youngest daughter asked me the other day why exactly we decorate the house around the holidays when we’re all so busy with programs, shopping, visiting, exams, and stuff. What’s the point of the tree, the santa dishes, and the little snowman singing on the back of the toilet? 

I responded with some gibber about tradition and didn’t think about it much. But now after a few days of programs, shopping, and cleaning, I’ve had a thought. 

Maybe putting up the tree, glitzing the house, and all these extras should have more of a point than just being a tradition. The kind of point that emphasizes how what we celebrate at Christmastime changes not just our normal routine—it interrupts our monotony with magnificence. It changes everything.

Interrupting monotony with magnificence

The entrance of God into the world as a baby changed everything. It shook the world. It showed us love and gave us real hope. So we modify life for a few weeks. Decorate our homes. Sing songs. Bake sweets. Give gifts. And reflect.

I actually just finished decorating my house. I did it a little differently this year.

Instead of doing what I’ve always done, I attempted to think of the extra stuff as worship instead of tradition– as little things I could do to honor God, reflect on his majesty, and think about more than myself rather than being grumpy about it or inconvenienced.

Worshiping in the Busy

Annoyance about these extras has accompanied me in the past. Don’t get me wrong. I like all this stuff. I just sometimes find myself feeling overwhelmed by everything that “needs” to get done, and instead of feeling the privilege of participating in some kind of life-encompassing praise, I gripe, throw up the tree, set out a few candles, and call it a day.

But not this year.

This year I’m adding some purpose to all these busy things. The shopping, baking, decorating, parties, shows, and visits. Surely, it’s possible for these actions to become acts of worship to my LORD and King.

It just takes a different perspective. Instead of being annoyed by the busy, I will embrace it with a heart of thankfulness and joy for all God has already done for me.

And maybe while my normal life is paused to magnify God, I’ll be changed so when this holiday season is over there will be less of me and more of him. And my “normal life” will be eclipsed by his glorious one.  

What are you doing this year to get beyond tradition to the heart of the season?