I think it’s stress …

It’s a famous old cartoon, maybe you’ve seen it. A zebra is standing in place, head turned back with a concerned look on its face. It’s looking at its back half, where its trademark black stripes have fallen off, landing in a pile around its hind legs. And the caption below reads, “I think it’s stress …”

That picture perfectly illustrates how I feel as I write this.

I still haven’t quite recovered from all the busyness of last weekend’s road trip with the Supermodel to Las Vegas (see my previous posts) and a LOT has piled up since then, in as many areas as you’d care to name. Let’s see …

  • I got an e-mail Sunday from the head of my local chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR for short), asking if I’d gotten a response about whether or not they wanted me to do a presentation for the next meeting (I hadn’t, actually) and asking if I could. I said I would. Sole problem: the meeting is tomorrow, six days after I was finally asked.
  • Doing some research Monday and Tuesday, I found that the congregation I had been planning to visit this coming Sunday (as part of my Congregational Journey) does not only no longer exist, but no one at the site where they used to meet (a local college hall) had even heard of them. Their phone number is out of service too.
  • I was planning to go to a job fair Tuesday afternoon, as part of my continued search for work, but discovered when I got there that there were only 17 employers there – and over 600 prospective employees in line before the doors had even opened. (If I needed something to drive home how horrendous the economy is right now, that did it better than any government statistic.) I gave up and went home, knowing I couldn’t stand in line that long with my bad feet.
  • It looks like a publisher is interested in the novel I’ve written – but they want to see a four- or five-page synopsis in addition to the book. So now I have to narrow a 90,000-word story down to about 2,500.
  • I took my car into the oil change place Wednesday, and they found some oil leaks that will take about $500 to fix. They’ve been able to do one small part of the repairs, but weren’t able to get to the rest, so I’ll have to bring it in again next Wednesday. This is in addition to a problem with the car’s computer that causes the cruise control to shut off without warning.
  • And the Supermodel got her paycheck from the school today, only to find that they shorted her about $1000. (This isn’t the first time the school has screwed up payroll either.)

There are a few other headaches, plus all the minor mundane issues that come with marriage, parenthood and life in these United States. Put all together, it’s not surprising that I have a “pecked to death by baby ducks” feeling.

To which I’m prone, I must admit. Charles Colson, head of Prison Fellowship and former special counsel to President Richard Nixon, once said that when confronting the big issues, like the war in Vietnam or negotiations with China, Nixon was remarkably cool and calm. But when he had to deal with minor annoyances – like sniping in the press or territorial wars between subordinates – he often went to pieces. I once took the Myers-Briggs personality test, which analyzes people’s natural bents along four different axes, resulting in sixteen different personality types. Mine was ISTJ (go look it up if you want to know what that signifies), and gave a few examples of others who fell into that category. The first one it cited? Dick Nixon. (Sure gave me a warm feeling … like, not at all.) So I’m trying to handle all this as well as I can, but it’s not my strong suit. Inside, my muscles are tight and my head is spinning, and I really would enjoy the chance to just scream at somebody.

And at this point, I suddenly recall some tips given to one of the characters in my novel.

I kid you not. There’s a point in the story where the main character has done something pretty stupid because she was under a ton of stress, someone else was in the wrong place at the wrong time and she blasted that poor soul like a firehose. She made amends a few hours later, but after doing so talked to a trusted friend (also the brother of her victim) and asked him how she was supposed to handle the burden she was bearing. Boiled down to bullet points, the advice he gave her was:

  1. Cry – without feeling ashamed about it.
  2. Stop concerning yourself with things you can’t change.
  3. Spend the time instead on things you can change.
  4. Keep doing the above over and over, to make them habits.
  5. Find something fun to do as well, for balance with the serious stuff.

I can’t remember exactly how I came up with those ideas – I was just writing the story, and there they were. (Tip: if you ever ask a writer where his/her ideas come from, don’t expect much of an answer. Usually we’re not sure ourselves, and it scares us.) But they seem logical to me. So that’s what I’m going to do:

  • I don’t feel like crying exactly, but I am angry and frustrated, so I’ll probably spend a little time pacing around my office ranting at the walls until it’s out of my system. (Hey, you have your methods and I have mine.)
  • I’m not going to sweat the economy or my current joblessness, or the closed-down congregation, or the oil leaks, or the payroll snafu at the school. (That last one, the Supermodel can handle quite well – and the school has always corrected their mistakes in the past.)
  • I’m going to focus on giving one heck of a presentation tomorrow – I’ve got the outline done, the handouts copied, and my voice is in good shape for winter. I’ll crank out that synopsis – heck, I’ve got blog entries that run almost 2,000 words, so 2,500 isn’t a big deal, and my friend Geri (see link to her blog at right) sent me some helpful material for putting it together. I’ll take my car to the garage on Wednesday, bring a couple of good books, and let them do the voodoo they do. And one of this blog’s readers invited me to check out his home congregation, and I’ve got this Sunday open …
  • Establishing habits takes time; I’ll keep you posted …
  • And as far as something fun to do … the Legends of Baseball fantasy league’s player draft starts Monday. My road to a 100-win season begins! Long live the Stockton ‘88s!

There’s also one other piece of advice I need to apply, and keep applying – one that the protagonist’s friend didn’t mention (possibly because the friend was a Christian, and she wasn’t one … yet). I was cooking dinner this afternoon when I heard a sound outside. It was a bird singing. Here in Northern California, winters are moderately cold and very rainy, so most birds fly south to Baja or somewhere until spring. But it’s not so cold that some don’t hang around, and the last few weeks have been unusually temperate. So I actually stopped what I was doing for a minute, opened the back door and listened. And I remembered Jesus’s words – “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” (Matthew 6:26-27) It’s a good question – I believe the correct answer is “nobody.”

Then, as I pull my head back in the door, I see lying on the floor a paper-bag puppet that my daughter brought home from Sunday school a while ago. It had this creepy monster face on it, and the words, “2 Timothy 1:7 God does not give us the spirit of fear”. Just in case I missed the point with the birds, I suppose.

Because what is stress, if you think about it (or even if you don’t)? It’s fear, bottled up. It’s when we suppress the natural urge to run around in panic like a loony or punch a wall because we don’t want to freak other people out. Because what am I really stressing about? “Will I be able to get this presentation done and do it well, so I don’t embarrass or let down my friends?” “Will I and/or my wife be able to provide for our family?” “Will I have reliable transportation, or will this vehicle keep breaking down?” Fear, fear, fear. But if you’re not afraid, you have nothing to stress over. You can act like it’s all taken care of (or is going to be), because … well, because it is.

So that’s the other tip I need to keep in mind – trust God, because He’s taken care of me all this time, and there’s no reason to think that’ll change. Don’t be afraid, He’s got it all in His hands … and infinite beings don’t trip and drop stuff.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go glue my stripes back on

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2 Responses to I think it’s stress …

  1. dhelmer says:

    Ray, remember:

    “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.” Rom. 8:26 (RSV)

    Even a go-to-church-once-a-year guy like me can relate to that one… :)

    –D.

  2. Betsy says:

    Great perspective Ray! God has given you insight and wisdom. Your advice is very straight forward and can benefit anyone who reads it-Christian or otherwise. Anyone can do it! Betsy

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