Start Where You Are At

Sometimes I wish I was at a different place in my life.  There are days I desire to physically reside somewhere else in this world.  I long for skinnier and more prosperous times.  I yearn to not be in my present circumstances.  I just aspire to not be where I am at.

No amount of wishing or dreaming or hoping can change my current circumstances.

No matter where I go from here, I do have to start right where I am at.

If I want to gain muscle and loose some of my pudginess, I have to start with my ugly looking workouts.

If I want to be in a better place financially, I have to start with my current cash flow.

If I want to have better relationships in my life, I will have to start from how they are right now.

This can mean that I have to face some not pretty things.  I can not avoid them or ignore them, even though it may be scary or ugly.

Confessions of an Overthinking Slow Starter

Call me a crazy contemplative.  I think about things.  A lot of things.  Little things, big things, in between things.  I think about things as they are, things as they were and things as they could be.  Thinking can turn to imagining, and wandering, meandering back again.

All this thinking can keep me from doing.  I confess that I can just get stuck, stuck on the start position.  I know that some people are really good, smooth, starters.  They can bolt into one thing and another and another.  Finishing what was started may be a whole different story.

Me on the other hand, I like finished and complete.  It takes a lot of effort for me to have work in progress.  Now over time I have learned that breaking big things down into project pieces, with clear next steps, is very helpful.  However, I still have a natural bent to not start things.  While some have unfinished projects, I have piles of unstarted projects.

I know that some of my problem stems from not liking my starting point.  I turn the things that I do not like or do not know about getting started into stumbling blocks.  The really sad, or perhaps sadly funny thing is, that I am really good at finding resources for the things I do not know and have a stubbornness to overcome the things I do not like.  That all happens once I get started…

I know that it is grandiose overthinking that can make the littlest projects turn into massive undertakings, at least in my mind.  I do not want to even imagine the number of times I have had the after thought, “that wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.”  

This is a driving factor behind my theme for the year, Simple Consistency.  Keep it simple, do it often.

Dusting for example.  I live on a farm, very close to the dirt road and fields with a gravel drive.  There are no dust bunnies at my house, only herds of dust buffaloes.  Once upon a time, when I lived in town, dusting was an easy project.  Here on the farm, I have found dust in places I didn’t know could accumulate dust.  If I wrote down “dust” on my to do list, it would feel like tantamount chore of Everest proportions.

I never anticipate being to the top of Mount Everest.  If I had an anti-bucket list, an inventory of things I never wanted to do in life, an excursion to Everest would be on it.  I do also anticipate never being completed with my task of dusting around my house on the farm.  Just when I think I am finished, I find my dust buffalo herd has found new grazing territory.

Even though I know there are myriad of surfaces in my house that need to be dusted, I know that I need to start right where I am at.  I need to move forward one step, one shelf, one wall hanging at a time to make progress.  I need to begin, even though I know the work will need to be redone, revisited and repeated.  Keep it simple, do it often.

A Starting Place, Not a Stuck Place

I may not like the place where I am starting from, but it does not mean I am stuck and have to stay here in this place.  It is simply a place from which to begin.

Here is a painful illusion about starting places.  They can FEEL like stuck places.  They can feel like a place where we are trapped, caught in an immovable position from which there is no release; wedged deep in between the proverbial rock and hard place.  It can FEEL like it is crushing us, where every breathe brings pain and struggle.  There are circumstances that make us FEEL as if we are completely at a loss and our problem is without answer.

Feeling like there is no answer, no solution and no hope is a pretty dark place to be sitting in.  It is scary and overwhelming and consuming.  It can feel more like a dead end than a starting point.  As I sat this morning surrounded by the starting points of my current day, I was reflecting back on some of the deeply dark times of my life.  Times where I did feel stuck and alone.

One of the most vivid moments that came flooding back to me was from late in my junior year of high school.  I was an honors student, in the upper portion of my class academically, involved in the right activities and in the right position for college bound success.  You may be wondering why this would be a dark and scary place to be…it seems full of hope and potential.

Well…in my shaking hand, light headed and nauseous, I held a positive pregnancy test.  To me this was where every rock, every hard place, every brick of every wall had collapsed upon me.  I was not just stuck I was buried.  I felt I had one fell swoop completely destroyed three lives, my life, my boyfriend’s life and the life of the little one inside me.  Not to mention the weight of disappointing ever single life attached to my own.

The frantic question was, “what was I going to do now?”  Quickly followed by, “what will happen then?”  It was a hard time.  An ugly time.  A time I honestly would not wish on anyone.

I can not tell you how many times I was asked, “how does something like this happen to someone like you?” Well, even academically intelligent students can go looking for approval, for love, for acceptance in the wrong places, making compromising decisions along the way.

I have paid dearly and repeatedly for the consequences of my actions.  I have brought struggles and suffering to those who love me and who I care about.  It has been a long, hard road, with many personal battles in my head and my heart.  All of which would take volumes and volumes to dig through.

But even that awful moment, that hard moment, I was at a starting point and not a stuck point.  That is all by the grace of God.  I can say that God’s mercy and grace has richly and abundantly poured upon me.  In the moment that young version of me was shaking as she thought her life was ending, God was preparing a redemptive plan of goodness that I never could have fathomed.

At that time in my life, my faith was nothing more that sporadic church attendance.  A good Sunday school student in the past, sure.  Confirmed, like a good Lutheran should be.  But faith like I mustard seed, I did not have.  Instead, I feared that wrath and punishment was inevitable for my actions.  I calculated in my head the long line of those who would join in the firing squad of my execution…my boyfriend, parents, friends, family, teachers, classmates, community and I guessed that God would be there too since I broke an uncountable number of His laws and decrees.

In hindsight, I can see the working of God’s hand in my life.  I am so grateful for it now.  I am humbled and I am thankful.  He never left me alone in those moments.  But, you know what, it sure did not FEEL like it then.  I have never felt so alone as I did in that moment.  In that moment I foresaw being completely abandoned, shunned and disowned.  In that moment I felt that I had just become the ultimate poster girl for life failure.

But that was just a starting point.  A really ugly starting point.

I can think of no words that will adequately describe how many steps have led me from that point or how painful, hard and awful some of them have been.  There have been many wounds and labels and struggles.   But those are all mixed together with healing, blessings and victories.

My boyfriend at the time, he’s grown into a man of incredible character.  I have been blessed to be his wife for over 17 years now.  He did not leave me or our baby.  He boldly stood by my side and faced incredible struggles with me.

Our son, had a challenging start to life, not just being born to young parents but he had a birth defect which led to several surgeries and his first 39 days of life in a children’s hospital.  He is now a junior in high school himself.  A young man of growing wisdom and discernment, who’s actions leave me in awe most days as his gentle generosity touches the lives around him.

We have even been blessed with a daughter who is filled with vim and vigor.  Offering us many delights of laughter sprinkled with sweetness.  A girl whose determination and spirit will likely take her far, even though these traits can outpace our patience as parents sometimes.

That college degree I was hoping for, I now have three of them.  Two bachelor’s degrees and one master’s degree.  A combination of the grace of God, the help of good people and a lot of long, hard work.

The best thing of all is my faith.  The love, acceptance and mercy from the Lord has truly been my saving grace.  It was God’s redemptive compassion upon me and not His wrath that has allowed me to get to this point.  Compassion that has repeatedly, sometimes continuously, offered me forgiveness.  In spite of my poor actions and despite my attempts at good works.  God was good to me long before I ever gave him any credit.

I would like to say that I hit my knees as I was holding that pregnancy test at 17 and totally gave my life to the Lord, being fully renewed, restored and ready to be transformed.  But, that is not what happened.  I was 22 years old when I started to stumble down a path of faith.  I have been a huge work in progress ever since.

When the Sun Comes Up

One of my favorite definitions on Webster.com of the word start is “to do or experience the first stages or actions.”  Like the soft glows a sunrise, when vibrant golden rays are protruding from the horizon as the first stages of daylight, our adventures begin from a starting point.

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I think about the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-32.  A man with two sons who’s youngest son had requested his inheritance.  The father divided his property between them.  The younger son set off into the world and squandered all he had.  A famine hits the country he is in and he begins to be in need.  He finds work feeding pigs, and is so hungry that the pig slop starts to look like an appealing meal.

Then we read in Luke 15:17-19 (NIV), “When he came to his senses, he said ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!  I will set out and go back to my father and say to him Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.” 

I think about those golden rays of grace that must have begun glowing in the heart of this son, slowly illuminating the brutal starting point that he found himself at.  Those first steps of acknowledging where he was at, and accepting the consequences of his actions.  I can only imagine what he must have been thinking along his journey home and the painful expectations that he was envisioning when he arrived.

It is my guess that the prodigal son never expected the passionate reception of his father or the celebration that occurred or the many days of the life that followed.  Maybe he too pictured a firing squad like I did.

Often times those first steps and actions are small and do not call bold attention to themselves.  The shine of a sunrise is soft and gentle compared to the blaze of the noon day sun which warms temperatures considerably.  It is easy to pass by a sunrise, missing it as we tend to other things.

When the prodigal son left his starting point the only ones who noticed were probably the pigs and their owner.  The Lord alone was present when I walked out of the bathroom as a pregnant teenager.  As I face the starting points of a brand new day today, it’s probably still only the Lord taking any significant notice, my family is kind of busy with starting points of their own.

Today, I am not going to be winning any marathons or even a 5k races.   I am not trained or conditioned to do that.  However, I will do a work out video at home; a bunch of lunges, jumping jacks, and crunches.  It won’t last long enough for anyone to take note of it.  I might be starting from a pudgy place, but if I can keep moving simply and consistently, perhaps I can have a little bit lighter, and more flexible step.

I will also write a note of encouragement and mail it in a card to a friend.  It is not going to uplift the masses and start an epidemic of joy spreading throughout the land, but hopefully it brightens the day of my friend.  It will probably happen so quietly and quickly that even the postal workers handling the envelope will not take note of it.

My starting point today is a whole lot less painful than the starting point I found myself at when I was 17 years old.

Whether you are at a delightful place of purpose, an exciting new adventure, managing ongoing daily responsibilities in the middle, or at a place that seems like a dark dead end, we all can only start from where we are at.  With God’s help and grace, we do not have to be stuck here, we can experience this spot and make it just one of many on the path of our lives.
Beloved Lord,

Thank You so much for the richness of Your grace and mercy.  Lord, where we are at can be painful, so very, very painful.  Our struggles can be epic and tiny and everything in between.  Lord, I pray that where ever we are at, that You would help us to see the starting point of it all.  

Your mercies are new each morning.  Each sunrise offers us the glow to illuminate a place to start from for this day.  This is a day that You have made.  We are never so far gone that we are beyond Your reach or without an opportunity to step forward. 

Lord, it can be so tempting to sit in our sorrows and feel stuck; scared and stuck.  Lord, for anyone out there who feels scared and stuck, I ask that You would bring Your redemptive work into their lives in a powerful way, even if it is only in hindsight that it is recognized.  May the glory come to You, no matter how long it takes to identify the tender goodness that You are pouring out today.     

In the amazing name of Jesus, a blessed place for us all to start.  

 

 

 

 

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2 comments

  1. Julie, this is so beautifully written. Thank you for your openness and your honesty. Thank you for reminding us who are Father really is…….compassionate, loving, and full of grace and mercy. He truly does make all things beautiful in His time. God has called you to write and we are blessed by your writings. Thank you!

    1. Thank you so much for the feedback and the encouragement. It is a joy to hear that the words I write are reaching into the lives of others. So often I find myself sharing what I myself am struggling with or working through, in the hopes that someone if someone else is facing something similar, they know they are not alone.

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