Go for a Walk!

A lily I saw yesterday
A lily I saw yesterday

I hate working out. But I heard so many people say you should work out that I began to feel guilty about not working out. Eventually I decided it was time to bite the bullet. I started out by looking up workout videos on YouTube and suffering through them at home. But after a couple of months, I just couldn’t take it anymore—the goony workout clothes, the “fierce” women, the perky women, the swishing ponytails, the mindless music in the background and…the boredom. It was so cotton-pickin’ boring.  “I don’t care about a thigh-gap, muscly arms and toned abs,” I groaned, “just give me my mind back!”

What I saw on a walk with a friend
What I saw on a walk with a friend

So, I quit. Now, this isn’t to say that I don’t like exercise. Exercise, by the way, is entirely different than working out in my estimation. Exercise can be had by doing useful things like taking out the trash, mopping the floor, running up and down stairs to put stuff away, shoveling snow off the sidewalk, ice skating, hoeing the garden and going for walks! I love going on walks. I heartily approve of walks. For one thing, walks don’t require hideous spandex and clunky tennis shoes. (Unless, of course, your feet require tennis shoes to be comfortable.) Walking requires no fancy equipment and, often, no shower afterwards, which is great news for my poor, dry, eczema-ridden skin. Walking is glorious and refreshing. Okay, I’m beginning to sound silly. But I do love walking.

A walk in the fog last night.
A walk in the fog last night.

As you have probably guessed, I go for walks quite often. Nearly every day, in fact. Sometimes, I’ll walk as far as five miles in one day. Besides the fact that I get my exercise in that way, I have the most interesting experiences and see that most lovely things while I’m out walking. Since I live by Lake Michigan, I’m always assured of a beautiful view in the lake alone. But it’s really the small things that I enjoy the most.

 

An outline of Sleek
An outline of Sleek

First, there was the maiden fly I found last summer, its beautiful bright blue laid out against the sand. It sat so still, I got a picture before it flew away. Then there was the little robin I saw the other day, sitting right in the middle of a puddle to cool off. When I go out at night, I almost always see a jack rabbit or two, frozen in someone’s lawn waiting for me to pass them. Lately, I’ve struck up an acquaintance with two black cats, Sleek and Slim. I have no idea what their real names are. I just call them that because Sleek is quite fat and Slim is much skinnier with a large tuft of fur missing from his tail. Whenever I see them out, I stop and visit. Today, though it is my big teaching day, I devoted some of my lunch hour to a walk along the country roads that run close to where I teach. It was beautiful. The hills were so green and flowers were blooming everywhere.

Flowers I gathered on my walk yesterday.
Flowers I gathered on my walk yesterday.

I think the part I like most about walking is that it makes me leave everything and just go. There are times when I feel so stressed out about life and my responsibilities or some sadness I’m dealing with, that I find myself running around in distracted circles, accomplishing nothing and feeling more and more stressed because I’ve accomplished nothing. When this happens, I know it’s time to take a walk. I leave my work unfinished and break out of my house and the little circle of worried thoughts occupying my brain. As I walk, my tense shoulders relax and I breathe in the good fresh air, looking around at the beautiful world God created. And though I don’t often put the feeling I get into exact words, its essence is something along these lines, “God created all of this and runs it to perfection. Surely He is more than capable of taking care of all my little problems.” It’s about then that I begin to talk to God, confess my sins to Him and ask for His wisdom to face all of my perplexities and anxieties and responsibilities with grace.

I found this on another walk last year.
I found this on another walk last year.

Frankly, I think more people should take walks. It does the soul good. My advice to all of you is, go for a walk. Suspend your anxieties and troubles for twenty minutes and take time to look at this beautiful world. Let it remind you of the one who created it and who is in absolute control.

Jesus Died for All the People (All the Toxic People of the World)

57e2ecdbb7d90d3f92f9b7cdf542eb2cI like Pinterest. I like all the colorful pictures and home decoration ideas and recipes. But, because I am a writer most likely, I find myself drawn to the “quotes” category more than the others. I scroll through, rolling my eyes at the slurpy love quotes, being annoyed by the coarse jokes and stopping in wonder at some of the gems of thought I find after a thorough search. But then, there are those other quotes, those statements taken out of context, those half-truths that do so much damage to susceptible minds. I’m often tempted to add them to my quotes collection but don’t because there are either fatal flaws in the ideas or the ideas only represent a grain of truth or the ideas are flat-out wrong to begin with no matter how well-written. It wouldn’t be a good thing to take them to heart because, to quote Richard Weaver, ideas do have consequences.

Consider the topic of toxic people. I’ve noticed a lot of “wise” words about “toxic people” lately, and they tend to bother me. For instance, “Don’t let negative and toxic people rent space in your head. Raise the rent and kick them out.” (Robert Tew) At first, it sounds like a reasonable motto. But what exactly are toxic people? Well, judging from all the wise words I’ve heard on the subject, toxic people are the kind of people that make you feel bad about yourself, those who love you too much, stifle your creativity, impose their standards on you, are negative and so on and so forth. Here’s a helpful diagnostic from Daniell Koepke, “Not all toxic people are cruel and uncaring. Some of them love us dearly. Many of them have good intentions. Most are toxic to our being simply because their needs and way of existing in the world force us to compromise ourselves and our happiness. They aren’t inherently bad people, but they aren’t the right people for us. And as hard as it is, we have to let them go. Life is hard enough without being around people who bring you down, and as much as you care, you can’t destroy yourself for the sake of someone else. You have to make your wellbeing a priority. Whether that means breaking up with someone you care about, loving a family member from a distance, letting go of a friend, or removing yourself from a situation that feels painful — you have every right to leave and create a safer space for yourself.” There you have it. The definition of a toxic person…and subjectivity overload.  I guess everybody just has to figure out who is toxic to them and eliminate accordingly.

Besides the fact that I object to referring to human beings as toxic which sort of puts them on the same level as the chlorine in our water and the fluoride in our toothpaste and just that disposable, here are my main concerns with the “freedom from toxic people” attitude.

  • From the life and example of Christ, we have no precedent for eliminating toxic people from our lives. It just isn’t there. I mean, think about it. What group of people living during the time of Christ would qualify as toxic more than the Pharisees and other religious leaders? If those individuals I quoted above are right, than Jesus was a real sucker. Not only did he not remove them from his life, he engaged them in conversation. He answered their accusatory questions with more questions. Instead of avoiding them, he confronted them. And finally, when they incited a crowd to blood thirst, he died for them.
  • The term “toxic people” denies sin. Like I mentioned before, people are not toxic. Chemicals are toxic. People are sinners. All people. That includes you. You may be successful in getting rid of all the toxic people in your life. Block them all on Facebook, refuse to answer their phone calls or move to a different church to avoid seeing them, be a hermit in a cave, but there will always be one toxic person left to egg you on—you. You sin quite well all by yourself.
  • Eliminating toxic people is all about self-preservation, not Biblical restoration. Getting rid of toxic people has an element of cowardice in it. The only time we are Scripturally instructed to avoid someone is after a very, very long chain of events FOR THE PURPOSE OF RESTORATION! It’s not about you. It’s about the good of the offender and the glory of God. To learn about that chain of events, read Matthew 18 and I Corinthians 5. It involves a courageous act called confrontation. But before confrontation, you have to do one thing that’s even harder than confrontation. You have to get the huge, ugly log out of your eye. Is it any wonder that Biblical confrontation so rarely happens? It’s so much easier to simply swat those annoying people away like so many pesky flies than look into your own heart in fear of what you might discover there.
  • We actually need toxic people. I read this on Pinterest a while back, “Terrible people awaken all of the terrible parts inside of you.” I could not find out who wrote this, but it is true. What you do with this truth is what matters. The “freedom from toxic people” idea suggests that this is why we need to eliminate such people from our lives. But I think we should embrace them. Okay, maybe they’re so ornery they won’t let you physically hug them, but at least thank God for them. God always puts the people you need in your life when you need them. And sometimes those people waken the beast inside of you. They let you know just how bad you really are. They bring all the selfishness, all the pride, and all the anger right up to the surface which is where all that stuff needs to be so you can deal with it before God. Treat terrible people as throw-away objects and you’re the one that sinks. You lose the opportunity to grow, lose the chance to confront your own sin and bring those aggravating people up with you.  

So the next time you see some words like these, “Toxic people will pollute everything around them. Don’t hesitate. Fumigate, (Mandy Hale)” do yourself a favor and toss them in the garbage heap where they belong. (Not Mandy Hale, by the way. Just the words.) In closing, I’d like to share a few words that a Facebook friend, Julie Beeman, said about this subject, “For one thing it [toxic people mentality] presumes that each person’s highest aim is perpetual personal happiness, and that the people around them serve toward that end….a completely unworkable social construct. And it ignores the ‘kingdom’ characteristics of mercy, longsuffering, and forgiveness.” I couldn’t have said it better.

Conciliar Post

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Several years ago, I was attending Southwestern Michigan College in Dowagiac. I had signed up for a history class with one, Tim Smith, and appeared two morning out of every week in the front row with a large coffee. (Not that I was bored, mind you. I was just exhausted, as most college students usually are.) I sat on the right hand side of the front row and a relatively quiet young man, named Jacob Prahlow,  sat on the left hand side of the front row. That particular semester, we also ended up in a biology class together. Jacob made himself useful by wielding the scalpel when it came time for us girls to dissect anything gross. He obligingly cut stuff up while we made notes and tried not to gag. I noticed several things about Jacob. First of all, he was serious. Finding serious-minded young men in the halls of SMC was a practical impossibility. Second, he read a lot. Where most of the student body had their noses in their phones, Jacob usually had his nose in a book. Third, his reading material often centered around theology, philosophy and the like. I thought that was splendid. We got to know each other a bit, discovered that we were both in the family of God,  and parted ways after Jacob left SMC but continued our online acquaintance. The years passed. I watched, green with envy, as Jacob went off to Oxford for a semester. Shortly after that, I began giving music lessons to a few of Jacob’s younger siblings and was around while the family prepared for  a wedding in which Jacob married his sweetheart, Hayley, and moved away to continue his education. We kept up on Facebook, still. Mostly, I spent a lot of time  reading all the articles he frequently shared on Facebook, because the subject matter fascinated me. (I recently complained to his mother that Jacob needed to stop posting all of those interesting articles because I lack self-control and have frittered away hours of the day reading them. But I guess that depends on your definition of “fritter.”)

Recently, Jacob contacted me with a request. He and several good friends were looking to start a blog which would, to quote from the blog’s mission statement, “exist as a collection of theological conversations, journeys of faith, reflections on Christianity, and commentary on current events from a Christian perspective. Conciliar Post promotes edifying dialogue that informs, encourages, and challenges people around the world. The authors hail from a variety of Christian traditions and use this website to host an intentional community in order to facilitate the true exchange of ideas and to encourage loving action. We believe life is a journey whose end is union with God and every day is given for this end. Conciliar Post functions as a place where those journeying toward God may humbling, faithfully, and dialogically reflect on important issues, bolster meaningful dialogue, and grow in our relationships with Christ.” Would I consider being a contributor at Conciliar Post? Without much hesitation, I agreed. I’m really looking forward to this opportunity.

Conciliar Post goes live on June 16, and I hope you’ll take the time to investigate it. Watch for my article, “The Gray Hair Stays.”

 

A Niece From Colorado and Other Sundries

Kristen
Kristen

May is safely past. I guess we shall see whether June is even slightly less crazy. The last two weeks have been busy but very good.

I had a good visit with my niece, Kristen. She arrived three Tuesdays ago. My brother and I drove to Chicago to pick her up from the airport and took a leisurely, scenic route home. We stopped off at a Mom and Pop-type pizza parlor and ordered an enormous amount of pizza which we continued to feast upon for the next two days. Besides the unfortunate incident that happened the morning after Kristen arrived, the visit was pleasant and full of traveling to interesting places in Michigan.

Me and my nephew goofing around during one of the get-togethers while Kristen was in town.
Me and my nephew goofing around during one of the get-togethers while Kristen was in town.

The unfortunate instance I mentioned before goes like this: I was resting peacefully upon the floor (Kristen got the bed) at 6:30 in the morning when Justin burst into the room and jerked me awake. “Amanda, come here!” I staggered to my feet and followed him to the bathroom where, much to my dismay, there was water pouring in from the vent in the ceiling. Justin was all dressed in his scrubs and ready to go to work and didn’t quite know what to do. He had set up buckets to catch the water, but it was coming in a torrent and they weren’t helping a whole lot. There was water all over the place. While I grabbed all the towels in the house, Justin ran upstairs to the apartment above us. Apparently, the man-child who lives up there had forgotten to turn off the water in the bathroom. How? I can’t imagine. I really can’t fathom how a person can have water spilling all over his bathroom floor and not notice. I could tell you other stories pertaining to this individual, but they would take too much space. Thankfully, he was at home, turned off the water, and the maintenance man came and took care of the rest.

Cousins!
Cousins!

After that, we had a great time. We took Kristen to some neat places along Lake Michigan. Kristen and I went to the Memorial Day Parade on Monday and had large quantities of candy thrown in our directions, I suppose because we still look like children. We spent the afternoon with my older brother and ate food, Kristen spent time with her cousins, and we all went horse-back riding. I had the exciting experience of having one of the horses take off with me on it without my permission. No harm, no foul.

We drove Kristen back to the airport the two Tuesdays ago. Once back home, I got to work on planning for my students’ recital. It was a long week and there were a lot of details to think about, but the final production went really well. My students all did such a good job and I was proud of them.

I spent an afternoon with my brother's kids last week. We made a neat "house" on the beach.
I spent an afternoon with my brother’s kids last week. We made a neat “house” on the beach.

And now, life is somewhat quiet again. I’m sitting here, typing this post while I wait for my next music student to show up. I think life may not be quiet for much longer. Justin is in the process of buying a house and it looks as though I may be moving. Ah, well. One step at a time, right?

Until next time.