When You’re Driving Around with Your Tank Half-Full

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I had a revelation at the gas pump yesterday. I realized that the last several times I’ve leaned against the mini-van, nozzle gushing into the tank, I’ve clicked off the pump before it automatically clicked off itself.

I’ve driven away with half a tank, too rushed, too busy, to allow myself the time to pump a full tank of gas.

Now granted, I drive a beast of a mini-van with an enormous twenty-five gallon tank. When she’s flatlining on empty, it takes a while for that dashboard dial to crawl all the way to Full. But still…what’s it take…four, five minutes, tops? I’m so busy I can’t wait the four minutes for the ‘ol girl to fill?

In a word, no. I’m not that busy. I’m choosing to be that busy.

A few years back, my best friend Andrea and I used to talk for at least a full hour every single Friday afternoon. We did this for years. It was a standing date each week, and I looked forward to it. I brewed myself a cup of tea, arranged a handful of ginger snaps on a plate, settled into the corner of the couch with the sun on my feet. That weekly hour with Andrea sustained me.

To be fair, Andrea and I aren’t stay-at-home moms anymore. We both work now. Our boys are older. We do have more demands on our time, this is true. Yet something noticeable has changed. We talk perhaps once a month, usually when one or both of us is shuttling across town on yet another errand or another boy drop-off. I’m hardly ever sitting in an actual chair in my actual house when I talk to Andrea these days. We don’t intentionally set aside a regular time for our friendship like we used to do. Instead, we squeeze it in wherever it will fit.

What’s happened with Andrea — this squeezing our friendship into a sliver of time instead of intentionally making  a true space for it — is indicative of what’s happening in every part of my life. I’m simply squeezing it all in — here, there, wherever I can find an available slot.

Fifteen minutes of Bible study in the morning as I swallow down my English muffin; ten minutes of reading while I wait to pick the boys up from school; an email dashed off before bed; a Voxer message recorded as I walk across Walgreen’s parking lot.

Society tells us we are allowed to rest, we are allowed margin and space and time, we are allowed to re-fuel, when our work is done. When every last box on our to-do list is ticked. When every errand is run and deadline is met. When the last tee shirt is folded and in the drawer.

Yesterday, as I drove away from the gas pump with my tank half-full, I realized this is a big, fat lie.

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Society may demand this overextension of ourselves, but we don’t need to succumb to its lure.

Society may tell us we are not worthwhile or valuable or pulling our weight unless we are doing all of the things, every last one, but we don’t need to buy into that myth.

Society may tell us that this sliver-squeezing way of life is the norm, but we don’t have to sign on the dotted line.

Here’s the truth, friends (and I know you’ve heard this before, but if you’re anything like me, living the squeezy-squeeze life, you need to hear it again):

God gives us the gift of rest. It’s called Sabbath, and it’s made especially for us (and it doesn’t necessarily have to happen on Sunday, or even all at once on a single day of the week).

We can allow ourselves margin – the space to pump a full tank of gas, for heaven’s sake — because that margin is a gift made especially for us.

We can allow ourselves the space to respond to an email properly, with fully articulated sentences and thoughtfulness, because that space is a gift made especially for us.

We can allow ourselves the time to pick up the phone and settle into the sunny corner of the couch instead of a text dashed off at a red light, because that time is a gift made especially for us.

Let’s not let society tell us we don’t have the time anymore. We do have the time. God gives us time — plenty of it, in fact. We each get to decide how we’ll use it, so let’s not squander the gift made especially for us.

For Those Times You Can’t See God Working Beneath the Surface

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Back in May I spotted something new sprouting in my garden. I was pretty sure it wasn’t a weed, yet I couldn’t identify it. I peered at the strange plant every couple of days, waiting for a bud to appear.

It never did. Instead, at what seemed like the height of its flourishing, the plant began to wither. Its leaves yellowed and shriveled and finally drooped to the ground, where, after a few weeks, they disintegrated entirely into the soil. Two months after the first green shoot had appeared, there was nothing left to signify the plant had ever been there at all.

I forgot about that plant until two weeks ago, when suddenly a mysterious pink bloom appeared in my garden, a delicate lily standing tall atop a single stark stalk. I spotted these lilies all over town, their cotton-candy petals blooming in gardens, fields, and even in the middle of manicured lawns. I remembered, then, that two years earlier my neighbor had offered me a handful of bulbs. I’d buried them along the picket fence in the hard clay-dirt that fall, but I hadn’t held out much hope. I’d let the bulbs sit outside too long after my neighbor had given them to me, and by the time I’d gotten them into the ground they were dry and desiccated, literally crumbling in my hands.

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It took two years, but it turns out those bulbs did grow, and this summer for the first time they bloomed. They’re called Surprise Lilies (sometimes Resurrection Lilies or Naked Ladies), and the name suits. In the heat of the summer, when the garden is starting to look a bit bedraggled, a bare stalk shoots from the dirt and blooms into a dramatic spray of lilies in just a few days. It seems at first like this flower has sprung from nothing as if by magic. But that’s not actually the case. Although our eyes couldn’t detect it, below the surface, deep in the dirt, growth had been taking place. Those leaves that withered and disintegrated into the ground back in May had been feeding the bulb and the roots of the Surprise Lily all along, sustaining it in the dark, growing it in ways not yet visible.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve experienced periods in your life and along your spiritual journey that have felt hopeless and dark; months or even years in which you’ve felt stagnant, dry, and useless. It’s easy during times like these to think that God has abandoned you, that’s he’s moved on. Because you can’t see any discernible progress, you might conclude that nothing is happening at all.

But just because we can’t see movement right this minute doesn’t mean that important work isn’t happening below the surface, in the dark, beneath the dirt and grit that’s obscuring our vision. Sometimes God uses these very places – the dark, challenging, difficult experiences – to nurture, grow, and strengthen us. Sometimes he uses those times of seeming stagnation as a period of rest, preparation for critical growth and work to come. And sometimes God strips us bare in order to create new life in us.

Two weeks ago when I spotted the Surprise Lily standing regal and stately above the rest of the tired flowers in my garden, I was reminded that God often works the same way. Beneath the surface where we cannot see him, he is creating new life that blooms from death.

This post first ran on August 26, 2015 in the Lincoln Journal Star. 

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