Overwhelm: A Bridge Toward Saner Living

Trout Lake BridgeJ and I took our first trip to Yellowstone together twenty-two springs ago. As we zipped down the interstate ahead of schedule in the middle of the afternoon, I realized we could make it to the park that night. We could cancel our along-the-way reservation, drive to the Old Faithful Inn, and wake up already there rather than still long hours away.

I calculated the miles and the time. I figured we’d pull into the Inn’s parking lot by ten.

What I didn’t do was reckon on a sleet-spitting storm and the sludge that passing semis threw over the windshield of our little red Plymouth Sundance. Or factor in the one hundred thirty-nine deer that crossed the highway on their way down to the Shoshone River. Or consider Yellowstone’s speed limits, which are 45 miles per hour at best.

And I didn’t know about the road.

It was ten p.m. when we crossed the park border. Still, we passed the gate and entered Yellowstone with a sense of euphoria. We’d made it. We were in the park. We still had sixty-five miles to go, but we’d be out of the vehicle and headed toward bed by midnight.

Except, just inside the gate, there was this sign. ROAD CONSTRUCTION, it read, along with something about how many miles this road construction was going to last. Something about a twenty-five mile-per-hour speed limit. Something that meant it was going to take a very long time to get from where we were to where we wanted to be.

I drove past the sign onto a road that had been reduced to its dirt base. Obeying the speed limit was not simply a matter of compliance with the law. It was a matter of survival. Even at twenty-five, the car lurched and bounced, jarring our bones and rattling our brains. Twenty-five became more of a dream than a reality.

Between the nonexistent road, a mountain pass still blocked by winter’s snow, and the potholed highway that led to our destination, four more hours went by before we finally arrived, worn and weary at the Inn. In my optimism and desire to get to the park, I had made a gross miscalculation.

I do that in life sometimes.

I tally up the tasks and the time and figure I’ll be able to pull it off before the deadline. But I forget to factor in life’s squalls that throw sludge and limit what I can see and do. I don’t factor stopping for one hundred thirty-nine unexpected obstacles. I forget how fast I can—or can’t—go.

And I don’t always know about the road.

Sometimes it’s smooth. Sometimes it’s a little bumpy. And sometimes it’s a bone-jarring, brain-rattling surface that brings me to my own life worn out and shaken up.

It isn’t the math, not the reckoning or the factoring or the considering. It’s a tendency toward optimistic and often delusional thinking, a belief that the little things don’t really add and the road will always be clear.  It was this delusional thinking that defined last fall.

I felt overwhelmed. And stuck. Every day.

And then, one day after a morning (morning!) nap, I realized I wasn’t as stuck as I felt. I had options. Not a lot of them, but enough to make life more manageable for the now and better for the next time this always-packed season came around. I postponed a self-imposed deadline and enlisted help for current projects and one that would come back around in a year.

Overwhelm, I saw, was not just an unwelcome companion on that leg of my life’s journey.  It was a bridge, a rickety one, between a land of delusion and one of saner living. Seeing it for what it was allowed me to be grateful, not just for the bridge but for the road that brought me there. Crossing it taught me a few things. Here they are, in print, so I can remember them and so I can share them with you, just in case you ever find yourself overwhelmed.

Six Ways to Use Overwhelm as a Bridge to Saner Living

  • Resist the urge to panic. While panic comes easy and calm takes effort, it never helps.
  • Realize you are not as stuck as you feel. Feelings serve as good indicators, but they aren’t good at telling the whole truth.
  • Rest. Whatever that looks like for you. Somehow, things look better after a night’s rest. Or a morning nap. Or a bath. A walk. A conversation.
  • Reconnoiter. While this is a military term, it’s helpful in navigating life. It means to go to an area to gather information about an enemy. Basic reconnaissance. And, while enemy may be extreme in describing overwhelm, the concept of an intentional information-gathering trip into your own life applies.
  • Remediate. Based on what you learn, make changes where you can—both for the now and the later. Even a small change is movement.
  • Request help. About the truth that we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength, CS Lewis said that sometimes the strength is simply to ask. Sometimes it’s to carry on. Sometimes it’s to do less. And sometimes it’s the strength to face the truth that we need help.

And you?  Have you ever found yourself in need of a saner way of living? What did you do? I’d love to hear.

 

 

 

Sharing stories at Jennifer Dukes Lee and 3D Lessons for Life

 

The Bird and the Wire

Bird in flightSummer mornings, I walk the gravel line between the drone of highway traffic and the twitter of birds in the pasture. A road that knows few cars and fewer houses, its ditches prosper rabbits and bees and the birds which lay down my morning soundtrack. I rarely notice the animals when I walk. Because I’m prone to tumble, I tend to keep my eyes fixed on at the ever-changing place where my feet meet the road. It’s hard to watch with my eyes glued to the ground.

Even so, one morning I noticed a movement in the ditch. A bird flew straight up the front of the fence barrier that separates our rural road from the local four-lane. She fluttered up, past row after row of squares, squares not wide enough for her wingspan. After passing the top one, she squeezed underneath the sagging barbed wire strung across the top and continued her ascent on the other side.

She could have avoided that precarious squeeze. There was plenty of space on the country side for her to rise into the air, space which looked safer, smarter, and better. In just a few inches she could have crossed over without wedging herself between the wires, if only she had looked up instead of straight ahead.

Because I tend to anthropomorphize the natural world, projecting onto it qualities which belong to humans, I wondered what she was thinking.  Why would she make that squeeze when she would have been free to fly wherever she wanted had she waited just a second longer? Why would she take what looked like a dangerous way when safety waited just inches above? Was she trying to challenge herself?

A bird’s life doesn’t require additional challenge. It revolves around survival. Find food. Avoid danger. Evade predators.

It looked to me that maybe she flew just the way I walked, eyes fixed just ahead, just far enough to see the next thing, oblivious to all the rest.

Like the bird, I’ve sometimes got my eye open for the first out. In marriage, in motherhood, and even in own my mind, I’m tempted to look for the easiest way through even though I know that in everything that matters there is no easy way and the first out is almost always a bad idea.

The bird made it through the barbs and on to freedom. She avoided the hazardous wires. She survived.

That was enough for her.

But you and I were intended for more than a song bird’s life, crafted for more than mere survival. We were made to sing, but when our vision is focused on finding the first out, the song can get lost–if ever it is sung at all.

A bird’s song is its song. It can’t sing a new tune. A cardinal sounds like a cardinal, a chickadee like a chickadee.

We, however, can sing most any tune we want. Often the most beautiful melodies are hard-won, springing from waiting places, dark places, places of weariness and discouragement that try the soul, the ones where the temptation to take the first out is strong.

But we weren’t made for escape. We were made for something more, to be drawn out by the God who loves us and to sing his song. And sometimes, it’s in those hard places that we discover the melody.

Bird New song

Grown up life brings with it more hard places than easy ones. What is the nature of your place today? What is your song?

Linking this week with the writers at Thought Provoking Thursday and Small Wonders.

For When It Rains On Your Parade

chesterton2A few Saturdays ago, I woke to thunder and began to pray that it wouldn’t rain. Seconds later, I realized that it was 6:30 a.m., the time when my post The Best Thing One Can Do  was scheduled to land in inboxes, mine included.

I wasn’t following Longfellow’s advice for a rainy day.

Sometimes weather is a painful metaphor for life. Trials don’t have to come from camping to do their work, and their work isn’t limited to relationships.

Chesterton says to look up. Longfellow, to let it rain. And James tells us to consider them with joy. None of those are my natural first response. They all pertain to perspective and perspective changes everything.

J’s perspective was different. He came out and said, “Well, I don’t have to worry about keeping the sod wet.”

He let it rain. He looked up. He found a rainbow.

Trials have power and the purpose. They will come. The handling of them is up to us.

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4

 DSC02143 - Version 2

Sharing stories at Coffee for your Heart (holleygerth.com) and Unforced Rhythms.

The Intruder

DSC00776A low rumble of a growl, that’s how it started. Our first camping trip found us buried further down a country road than I had ever traveled, stuck on one of those rural grassy drives between dusty gravel and green pasture.

The little red Plymouth Sundance that I brought into our marriage lost the battle with the deep ruts that passed for a driveway. My husband’s manly Jeep from antiquity would have prevailed, but we wouldn’t have been able to hold a conversation during the drive. So there we were, in my vehicle instead of his—a vehicle stranded with its undercarriage on the dirt, wheels dangling in the air like a little kid in a grownup chair.

A distant cousin lived this deep in the country so J calmly walked us down the road to their house, where we found him home and able to extract us from our predicament. We thanked him and drove the remaining fifty yards through the open pasture and pitched our tent amid the close timber. J unpacked while I worked on dinner.

That’s when I heard the growl.

I surveyed the surrounding trees, looking for a bear. (Because what else would growl in the Iowa woods?) I saw nothing. Not a bear. Not a squirrel. Not even a cow. Someone rented the land for their herd, but we hadn’t seen any of them yet. I told myself it was a cow, but I didn’t believe me. I grew up around my grandpa’s cows and I never heard them make a sound like that.

I heard it again, closer this time. I turned and there, ambling our way, was a bull. Grandpa’s warning to my seven-year-old-self erupted in my head: “Tillie, I would never keep a mean bull, but if the bull is in the pasture, you stay out.” That was enough. Bulls were obviously dangerous and to be avoided.

Now one was aiming for my outdoor kitchen.

I walked to the car and informed my husband about the intruder. We went to opposite sides of the car and stood, mesmerized by the bull as he plodded toward us. We opened the doors. He advanced further. We got in and sat down, shocked, because who gets stalked by a bovine on a camping trip? He held his course all the way to the front of the car and I wondered if he would crush the roof when he stepped up and walked over us.

bull - Version 2He pressed his legs against the front of our tiny car, stretched his rippled neck, and nearly touched the windshield with his immense nose.  Apparently he didn’t need much personal space. When he pulled his head back we waited to see what he would do next. We didn’t wait long. He bent down, stuck his nose under the car, and lifted it into the air.

And then he dropped us.

J had the vehicle started and in gear before we hit the ground. He backed through the maze of trees with impressive speed and got us to the fence where we could put a gate between us and the bull, the conqueror in full possession of our gear.

Back to the cousin’s house we drove. Once he finished laughing, he told us that yes, he knew the farmer who kept the cattle on the land. He called and miraculously, he too was home on a Friday night.

The farmer met us at the gate and climbed out of his truck with a bag of Cheetos. The bull was a rental, brought in for breeding purposes. He’d been raised as a pet. His owner had shared his cheese curls with him while he chored, so he was unusually interested in people.

The gear extraction plan was simple: The farmer would distract the bull with his Cheetos while my husband made the grab. I waited on the safe side of the fence.

It worked.

We drove even further into the country to the empty farmhouse where J’s grandma grew up. J pitched the tent on the lawn and I restarted dinner. We fell into our sleeping bags in the deep dark and slipped into sleep to the mooing of the cows across the road, mooing broken by an occasional low rumble of a growl.

bull

We shared camping’s trial and by the next morning we shared its laugher, first together and later with J’s great-aunt who roared up in her pickup not long after we peeled ourselves off of the ground. Now it’s one of our stories. Not all of our stories are happy. Some are sad or even dull, but each one is a different type of thread in the fabric of our life. With the threads of faith, hope, and family, they hold our life together.

And you? You have stories. What do you do with them?

This is the final post in a series about the trials of life outdoors and their effect on relationships. Part one is here and part two is here.

The bull photo is courtesy of a friend who risked life and limb, under the supervision of the farmer, because she knew I wanted a photo of a bull. What greater love?