“Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
- Psalm 46:10
Foxes have built a den in an old ground hog hole under a cedar tree near the back of our farm. The vixen and her cubs have so far eaten about ten of our chickens. Dad has decided it’s time for them to go.
I volunteered to go fox hunting with him last Sunday evening. I’d never been hunting before. Dad asked me if I thought I could hold the .22 mag on target. I nodded: I had shot it before.
Treading softly and stifling my allergy induced cough, I followed Dad out to the hay field bordering the den. We sat at the ready, completely still and covered in camo.
My whole leg went to sleep but I so badly wanted to see a fox, I barely allowed myself to move it. Dad turned on the fox call - the one that sounded like a wounded cotton tail rabbit. My eyes scanned the hill crest, expecting to see fox ears pop over the horizon at any moment.
But an hour passed and nothing came. We saw plenty of birds and even attracted an owl, but no fox.
If I learned anything from my first hunting experience, I learned that stillness is hard. Maintaining the same position requires discipline and patience. I watched my Dad sit motionless waiting and tried my best to do the same.
Stillness brought chickadees, cardinals, and an owl. Mostly it brought peace.
Stillness does that. Stillness allows us to stop striving and seek God’s face. We find peace and enjoy the place God has us.
“You’ve been restless, Courtney,” a close friend told me today. She was right. I’ve been striving for a goal out of my power to pursue and for a goal out of my power to identify. I robbed myself of peace and God’s face.
She sent me to Psalm 46:10. And to a devotional her mom had just sent her. Here are some excerpts:
When I give you no special guidance, stay where you are. Concentrate on doing your everyday tasks in awareness of My Presence with you. The Joy of My Presence will shine on you, as you do everything for Me. Thus you invite Me into every aspect of your life. This is the secret not only of joyful living but also of victorious living. I designed you to depend on Me moment by moment, recognizing that apart from Me you can do nothing.
What does this being still and ceasing striving look like? I’m not quite sure myself. I’m still learning. But I have a feeling it may be something like Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus instead of Martha, losing the best by striving after what was good. My questions often echo Martha’s: “Lord, why have you asked me to walk this road with this work?”
But I think the Lord’s answer is the same:
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
What is the best that Mary understood? “Look to the LORD and His strength; seek His face always,” Psalm 105:4 Cease striving. Seek God.
Seasons of life come and go. Some pass barely noticed. Others change so quickly my head reels and balance falters. During those times I crave stability and consistency: That feeling I got when I stood in the kitchen, elbows on the counter while Mom cooked. Or when I walked back to Grandma’s house from the barn, covered in horse hair and dirt.
Now, that counter belongs to someone else, and Grandma lives in another state. Mom found a real estate catalog two Februaries ago. We moved the next September, exchanging rivers, boating, and downtown Annapolis for cows, land, and Winchester.
As I drove to downtown Annapolis a few weeks ago, the yearning for home strengthened. I approached a part of my childhood that helped form my character and build my dreams. Memories flooded.
Baseball on summer nights with my dad and brother. Me never quite making the throw from 3rd base to 1st: I threw like a girl.
Fishing trips starting in the early afternoon lasting through the lavender painted evening until almost dark, and Dad reminding us of Red Right Returning as we headed for home from the Chesapeake Bay. Pulling in the driveway with sea water sticky hair and cranky stomachs.
Popping in at Grandma’s to take her out to ride horses with me and my brother. Cantering around hay fields drinking freedom and crisp air. Then falling off because the girth was too loose.
Daring cousins to swim in the snapping turtle pond water, and giggling at dragon fly larva nibbling our toes. And never quite nailing the front flip off the diving board. Sneaking around the pond with a flash light and crab net after dark, chasing after bull frog croaks. Playing Ghost in the Graveyard after dark. My brother clothes-lining himself.
Chasing after a flock of geese in a hayfield because Dad promised us 5 dollars if we caught one. He didn’t know one was lame. Or that he’d have to split 5 dollars 4 ways.
Pop Pop teaching my brother and I how to build fence and swing a hammer. Crab feasts on Grandma’s deck. And sneaking candy when we thought she wasn’t looking.
Waking up on Saturday mornings to Dad grinding coffee and the smell of bacon slipping through the bedroom door crack. Or my dog’s eyes enthusiastically staring at me down her nose’s long plain, begging me to get up and feed the chickens.
Navy football games with my best friend. Standing through a torrential down pour while she and her dad helped me finally understand more than a touchdown.
I grew up 5 minutes by car from the West River then a 5 minute boat ride from the Chesapeake Bay. I lived in southern Anne Arundel County filled with corn, soybeans, horses, boats, and red necks. I have my dad’s South County-Baltimore accent blended with my Mom’s subtle country twang. Even now, I love the land as much as the water. I enjoy being in cities but prefer the country.
Some of the greatest literature carry themes about returning to your home land. Odysseus fought to return home to Greece from battling in Troy. Nehemiah when exiled in Babylon longed to return to and rebuild Jerusalem. Margret Hale from North and South longed to return to her beloved childhood home in southern England. Our homes shape us, molding into our identity. Returning to my home turf is like returning to a part of myself.
But that doesn’t mean my identity is incomplete or I left a part of my soul behind when I moved to Virginia. Instead, another home expands my identity and enlarges my soul in a new way.
Like Margret Hale, I tend to romanticize my home land. But my home memories, though good, are past. I taped a verse to my computer a few years ago. The faded pencil lead reminds me that God is here with me now in this moment: …do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!” (Isaiah 43:18,19a). I don’t want to miss new adventures by turning my face back toward my old home. I might, after all, end up like Lot’s wife – about as useful to God as a pillar of salt. I can’t seek God’s face if I’m always turning my head to the past. Psalm 105:4, “Look to the Lord and his strength; seek His face always.”
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Half a second, and I successfully crossed another day off my calendar. Painfully fast compared to the long hours each square represents. The countdown ensues. Three days till the weekend, 18 more days till the beach, 31 days till I go back to school, till, till, till…what about now?
I once read a children’s story about a man who received his thread of life from a fairy. The maroon thread was wound into a ball with a loose end which, when pulled, caused the man to pass over days in his life. He pulled the thread whenever his life became difficult or in anyway unsatisfactory. Once he skipped all the days between his penniless, wifeless youth to his just-married, higher salary life. The fairy warned him not to pull the thread too often, or his life would pass too quickly. The man failed to heed her advice. He soon found himself an old man with only a small amount of thread left, wishing that his life had not passed so quickly.
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I hate tripping. Especially in public. And for some reason today I tripped more than I did during my preteen years when I grew more legs than my brain knew what to do with. I tripped down Pennsylvania Avenue. And I tripped down H and 7th street. I can definitely confirm that gravity is indeed alive and well. But, best of all, I tripped walking up the escalator from the Dupont metro in the pouring rain. My hands hit the stairs, my shoe slid down a couple steps, and man at the top hollared “Everything all good?”
Everything seemed so until I stood under the awning at the bus stop.
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I cried when I watched Disney’s Toy Story 3. Andy had grown up and was leaving for college. When Andy gave Woody, Buzz, and his other treasured toys to that special little girl, I thought of my favorite childhood toys – the American Girl dolls, Cinderella Barbie, and Breyer Horses – boxed up in the basement. “I’m never giving up my toys!” I promised myself.
I soon found myself packing my belongings that I wanted to take to college with me. And, like Andy, I wasn’t taking my toys. I told myself at the time that I was only leaving for a short period of time. I’d go back home, and everything would be the same as it always was. But an aching sadness tinged with the anticipation that frequently accompanies change plagued me. The pit of my stomach told me what my head would not admit.
The night before I left for school, my belongings stood in a pile on the floor like the stone monuments the Israelites built to commemorate important events in their history. Whether I admitted it or not, I was standing on one of those life thresholds that we look back on as markers for change. On one side lay my childhood. On the other, the path to adulthood.
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