Muscle Memory

By Sally Stap

Author Sally Stap

Sally Stap

A friend recently drove my car, and asked how the cruise control worked. From the passenger side of the car, I told her clearly and confidently. However, after following my precise instructions, we both felt the car slow down. “Hmm, I don’t know what’s wrong, but it works for me and I do the same thing.” After repeatedly speeding up, following my instructions, and slowing down, I both put on my reading glasses and looked at the clearly marked buttons. “Oh yea, I guess that’s what I do — push down instead of up.” Sheepishly, I mumbled, “I do it so automatically that I couldn’t tell you! Sorry about that.”

I’m in awe how unconsciously we do certain things. Muscle memory is created as a result of movements being repeated so many times that we perform them without conscious effort. I find, like with cruise control, I frequently can’t verbalize a series of motions because I’m so used to doing without thinking.

Passwords provide a great example of muscle memory. I was reminded of that when my bank recently updated their website. I sat and looked at my computer screen dumbfounded because with the three passwords required were now in different spots on two consecutive screens. I could no longer remember any of them. I had to close my eyes at each new spot and think through the old order so that I could pull out the portion I needed for the new screen format and sequence.

We also build up “spiritual muscle memory” by spending time in prayer, meditation, and Bible study. The more we repeat a motion, the more ingrained it becomes. The more we fill our minds with the right information, the more automatically we return to it. So, if we find ourselves fallen by the side of life, bleeding and bruised, it’s kind of like riding a bike. After climbing back on, we quickly find a comforting familiarity and focus. How do you develop your “muscles?”

Sally Stap is a writer living in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Learn more about Sally at smilingagainbook.com or www.facebook.com/smilingagainbook.

Doubting Thomas and the Savior Who Died on the Cross

By Jennifer Allen

As this year’s Easter holiday draws near my thoughts keep turning to the story of Doubting Thomas. Thomas, the infamous disciple who couldn’t believe that Christ had risen from the dead until he touched the scars in his savior’s hands, leads me to consider my own struggle with fear and doubt.

A few weeks ago, one of the pastors at my church said something I’ve never heard before. He said that fear is counterfeit vision. Similarly, I think that doubt is counterfeit faith.

Sometimes, it’s so easy to believe in what we see. But Hebrews 11:1 reminds us that faith is about believing in what we can’t see.

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1)

While I’m sure Thomas’ heart wanted to believe so badly that Christ was indeed alive, he placed his faith in the death he witnessed just three days ago, in logic, in the laws of nature, in everything that seemed to be true.

Fortunately, the story doesn’t end there. Thomas, and his encounter with Jesus, reminds us that our faith is in a risen Savior. Though our lives may not always make sense, though we may not always be able to see, our hearts need not be troubled. Christ is the source of our faith; Christ is our reason for hope.

When fear strikes at our hearts, when we’re tempted to put our faith in what seems to be true, the best thing we can do is look and see God. By giving our doubts and our fears to Him we can find assurance in God and His promises. Just like Doubting Thomas, we can look to our Savior and place our faith in the palm of His hands.

No matter what appears to be true in your life today, no matter what you see that may be scary, discouraging, or cause for doubt, don’t be overcome by counterfeit faith.

Remember Doubting Thomas. Remember the hands. Remember the scars.

Remember the Savior who died on the cross, the Savior who rose from the dead so that we can be sure of what we hope for. So we can be certain of what we do not see.

We Need an App For That: Five Ways Technology Skews My Thinking

By Peter DeHaan

Author Peter DeHaan

Peter DeHaan

Several years ago, a coworker and I would spend hours driving from one office to another. Though he wasn’t a soft-spoken guy, I often strained to hear him as we traveled down the road. This only happened in the car and nowhere else. On many occasions I had this crazy impulse to reach for the stereo to turn up his volume. A couple times, my hand actually moved in that direction. Alas, real life lacks a volume control.

Other times, when listening to people with heavy accents, I sometimes don’t catch all their words. What did he say? It sounded like “transliteration,” but that makes no sense. Maybe he said, “Get on the bus.” That would make sense, but it sure didn’t sound like that. If only I could turn on close captioning then I wouldn’t miss a thing.

At home, my wife and I often “discuss” what we’ve said to each other. I accuse her of not listening, and she claims I miscommunicated. “Let’s go back and play the audio recording,” she says in exasperation. Sometimes I wish we can because I’m sure I’ll be vindicated, and other times I’m glad we can’t because she’s probably right. Someone needs to design an app for that – or maybe not.

It’s not just audio, either. Once, after watching a handful of loose papers – ones once carefully organized – fly about the room in disarray, I longed for an undo button. Although I can hit “control Z” on my computer to correct a few errant keystrokes, there are no do-overs in life. The reality is I should have been more careful and not in such a rush. Thinking before acting is better than wishing for an undo.

Television also affects how I try to interact with reality. Often I see something happen in real life, but not paying attention, I wish to watch it again. I mentally reach for the TV remote to “go back” ten seconds or long for an instant replay to catch every element in slow-motion detail. But no matter how often I wish for this, it never happens.

While I may dream of an app to address these issues, the reality is I don’t need technology to solve my problems. What I need is to focus on life as it unfolds around me, to slow down, and to avoid distraction.

Life is a gift, and I don’t want to miss another moment of it.

Tomorrow

By Sally Stap

Author Sally Stap

Sally Stap

Tomorrow will be a busy day because I don’t seem to be making progress on my to-do list. Of course, I understand prioritization, but tell that to life, right? I’ve become a victim of daylong excursions. No, not a walk through peaceful woods. Not a drive along the colorful frozen Lake Michigan shore. Instead, I keep having appointments requiring a full day of travel, and sometimes overnight. I will admit that I’m more than a bit frustrated because I get a high from checking things off my list as complete. Things that instead get put off because of another “can you be here tomorrow” phone call.

Tomorrow I’ll clean my desk. I’ll no longer sit here typing between piles of paper. Stacks that become more disorganized every time my half-Siamese calico cat decides to walk across my keyboard, gaze out the window, and jump down with papers cascading behind her. As I reach to catch the falling pile, she’ll pause to look at me with disgust and disinterest before padding of the room with a meow of protest. “Gabby!” I complain every time.

Tomorrow I’ll clean my closet. Tomorrow is when I’ll have neat and orderly dresser drawers. You know, the kind where everything has its place and you don’t have to push things down as you close. I’ll will love my new closet with clothes arranged by color and type. I’ll be taking all excess directly to a charity.

One thing I’ve learned to not put off until tomorrow is love. I love my family and they know. I’ve told them how much I appreciate them. If I can spend time with any of them rather than spend time cleaning Gabby’s path to the window, I pick family. If I can travel to see a new part of the world, I pick travel. If I can spend time appreciating God’s incredible earth, I pick nature.

Since having brain surgery, I’ve learned to listen to my body. If I need to lay down to rest my head, it’s not an option and I’ve accepted it. I listen to quietness for guidance with the loudness of life. We all live today not really knowing if there is a tomorrow. Living time that we can’t accurately calculate fractions of because we don’t know the total sum that will be given us. So, when I think about it, I’m even grateful for unplanned daylong trips. Because I’m here to take them.

I keep adding more to my “to-do” list than I’ve checked as complete. Pushing to tomorrow what I just don’t fit in today. Yes, tomorrow will be busy. Did I mention the great American novel that I’m working on? Well, tomorrow.

Sally Stap is a writer living in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Learn more about Sally at smilingagainbook.com or www.facebook.com/smilingagainbook.

Re-member

By Jennifer Allen

writer Jennifer Allen

Jennifer Allen

When I think about March I think about spring time, and Easter, and basketball.

As the tide of March Madness washes over our nation with the arrival of the NCAA Tournament, I can’t help but remember all the spring and summer evenings my dad and I spent shooting hoops in our driveway.

It’s not like we even play anymore, my dad and I. To tell the truth, it’s been years since we’ve challenged each other to a shooting match. A combination of my dad’s bad shoulder and my interest in other things brought our days of heated rivalry to an end long ago. But despite this fact, our memories remain.

To me these memories are priceless because more than anything it was my dad and me together. Every time my dad put his wild schedule aside to play H-O-R-S-E or Around the World with me he showed me his love for me was wilder than any deadline, report or phone call waiting for his attention.

Isn’t this what we all need to know, that the love of our Father is wild? And when we stop and take the time to make memories with the people we love isn’t that what we’re saying? “My love for you is wild. Wilder than everything else.

Time moves quickly, but memories hold time still. And the memories we make today are what will “re-member” us in the future.

Ann Voskamp writes about this term, “re-membering.” In her simple yet profound way she explains how the act of remembering God’s goodness to us, through the practice of thanksgiving, draws the fractured pieces of our minds and hearts together and makes us whole in Him.

I think it’s the same with memories, with good memories of the time we share and the people we love. Whether it’s with our children, our family, or our friends, the special moments we share today, both big and small, will draw us together tomorrow. When our lives become fractured by time and distance, memories re-member us.

Even though my dad and I don’t play a lot of basketball anymore I am thankful for the memories that flood my mind when March Madness rolls around. Precious memories that time, distance, and the general unraveling of a life can never take away.

Last summer, I’m sad to say, my mom decided it was time for our old hoop to come down. My dad and I were not in favor of the decision. It was sad to watch it go. But the net I saved and when it came time to celebrate my dad’s birthday I tucked it into a gift bag and gave it to him.

I know it was just an old rotten net but it was my way of telling him how much our memories and the time we’ve spent together mean to me. It was my way of saying, “My love is wild too.”

Are You Ready for Daylight Savings Time?

By Peter DeHaan

Author Peter DeHaan

Peter DeHaan

Winter, as measured by the amount of snow and extreme cold, has dragged on for too long. I’m ready for spring. A milestone that signals the approaching of a new season is the annual switch to daylight savings time. In case this isn’t on your calendar, get ready. It occurs in a few days, this year on March 9 (if you’re in the US), when we spring forward one hour.

However, aside from a reminder of spring’s approach, I have no other affection for daylight savings time. Consider:

  • It’s a Misnomer: We don’t really save daylight; we just alter our perception of when it occurs. Incredibly, some people actually believe this gives them an extra hour of daylight each day.
  • It Wastes Time: We spend too much time changing our clocks.
  • It Costs Money: Businesses must pay someone to reset clocks, adjust equipment, correct payroll issues for people working during the time change, and so forth. This is an added business expense.
  • It’s Frustrating: I always seem to miss a clock or two. Sometimes it’s a week or more before I discover my error, but never until after I’ve had an initial panic that I’m late or messed up my schedule.
  • It Confuses People: After each biannual time change, invariably someone arrives at church at the wrong time. I’m sure it happens at work, too, especially on Sunday shifts.
  • It Takes Time to Adjust our Internal Clocks: Switching time, messes up our sleep; it takes up to a week for me to return to normal.
  • It’s Dreaded: I’ve never met a person who looked forward to changing time, but I know many people who complain about it.

While many, myself included, have advocated we skip this twice a year nonsense and pick one time, I have an even better idea: let’s pick one time for the entire world. After all, we live in a global world and should be in sync with each other.

Let’s all switch to Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), also known as Zulu time. Then it will be the same time everywhere, with no confusion about time zones. No longer will we need to ask, “Is that 3:00 your time or mine?” There will be no errors in adjusting for meetings, conference calls, or deadlines with those in other time zones.

This will, of course require a significant mental adjustment, but we’d only need to do it once. If my calculations are correct, that means I’d get up at 10:00 a.m. (not 5); eat lunch at 5:00 p.m. (not noon), my work day would end at 10:00 p.m. (not 5), and bedtime would beckon at 3:00 a.m. (not 10).

Of course, while we’re at it, we could also switch to a 24-hour clock and forgo the a.m. and p.m. notations.

Want do you think? Could we make this time change once and just be done with it?

I’ve Got Nothing…

By Sally Stap

Sally Stap, author of Smiling Again

Sally Stap

I’ve got nothing. Sometimes, my brain just shuts down. I read recently that it’s not possible to not think. I’ve since thought about that a lot. When I’m unable to write, I think about how stressful it is to not be thinking of something. Welcome to my mind.

Those moments feel like an infinite loop. My mind especially screams nothing when I can’t sleep, so I attempt a disciplined process. Relax my feet. Relax my legs. Relax my arms. Empty my mind. Then turn over and repeat the process. It’s okay if I’m not sleeping, just laying here allows me to rest and think. If I move too much in the night, my cat wants to play and my dog wants to go outside. So I quietly repeat the drill.

I might think about how my eyes are drawn to mountain peaks yet I seek to describe the base jutting from the desert. Or perhaps the many faces of the sky and clouds and ponder how to capture the nuances.

What I have found to be helpful when I’m in one of those “wound tight” modes is to focus on God. Lord, I’m going to try to stop thinking and open my mind to hear you. I then visualize what heaven might look like. I focus on pearly gates, a yellow-brick-gold path and the contrast of lush green grass that I assume must be there. I don’t analyze. I don’t think about theology. I find myself focusing on what’s important in life. I pray for the people in my life, one at a time. Thank you God, for my life.

What follows is a quiet peace. It may be followed by some creative thoughts flowing into my mind. It may be followed by a quiet voice that I know is from God, I love you, dear child. Next thing I know, it’s morning and I find myself heading to my computer to capture thoughts that have finally started to flow. Thank you, Lord. Out of nothing comes something.

Sally Stap is a writer living in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Learn more about Sally at smilingagainbook.com or www.facebook.com/smilingagainbook.

Language of Love

By Jennifer Allen

writer Jennifer Allen

Jennifer Allen

For the past four years my husband and I have lived under one roof with my mom and dad.

Many people look at our situation and wonder how we make it work. For the most part our unique family life runs smoothly, but there are times when stress burdens, pressure piles high, and life spins wild. It is in these times, that my mom and I have a tendency to clash.

I recently had lunch with a friend of mine. After listening to a few details about my relationship with my mom she asked me a brilliant question: “What would you say is your mom’s love language?”

It’s a question I never considered before. I think a lot about my husband’s love language, and even that of my girls, but as far as my mom is concerned, I’ve never even asked.

For anyone not familiar with the Five Love Languages by Dr. Gary Chapman, the Five Love Languages include: Gifts, Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Physical Touch and Quality Time. According to Chapman, everyone has a love language(s) which determines their natural bent for giving and receiving love.

When I stopped to consider my mom and what her love language might be, I pictured her at home on a typical afternoon.  In my mind’s eye I could see her cooking supper, doing laundry, mopping the floor…it wasn’t hard to come to the conclusion that my mom gives love by serving our family. Her love language is Acts of Service. She’s wired for work, and this is how she communicates love.

Here’s the thing: Acts of Service is so not my love language! I’m Quality Time to my core, and herein lies the problem.

When I feel frustrated and impatient with my mom, what I really want to tell her is, “Stop! Slow down! Take a break! I don’t want sparkling clean floors, or even clean laundry, what I want is you. I want you to spend time with me. I want you to be happy and peaceful.”

What I view as work, work, work is my mom’s way of showing love to our family. When I look at her through the eyes of her love language I understand her heart, and I see the love that is there in her work.

Gaining understanding of my mom and her particular love language doesn’t only help me see how she gives love to our family, but also how I can show love to her. Things like vacuuming the living room or shopping for groceries are things I take for granted, but when I do these things for my mom I’m not just doing household chores, I’m speaking to her heart.

February is a month set aside for giving and receiving love. Do you know what your mother’s love language is? How about your son’s, your daughter’s, your best friend’s? Why not start this month of love by learning a new language? The sweet and life-giving language of love.

Age Is Not a Number but an Attitude

By Peter DeHaan

Wordsmith Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and blogger.

Peter DeHaan

Many of my friends are younger than me, often by quite a bit. In fact, I’d rather spend time with people half my age, than my own demographic. I don’t know what they think about hanging out with me, but I think it’s great to be around them.

Too many people my age have settled; they’ve accepted the status quo and are coasting towards nothingness, but they don’t even know it. How sad.

Many younger people, however, have a zest for living. Life is an adventure. They are learning, dreaming, growing – they are alive. And so am I, especially when I’m around them. Yes, experience may have tempered my zest, but I’m still learning, dreaming, and growing. That’s life; the alternative is death. And I’m too young to think about that.

So I’m on a committee with people mostly my age and older. (For the record, they haven’t settled.) We discuss who to invite to join us. Our leader makes an astute observation: “There are no Millennials on our committee.”

I’m offended. Wait, I am a Millennial. Then I silently correct my errant words before embarrassing myself aloud. No, you’re not; you just think you are.

Ah, the joy of delusion.

Yes, I identify more with Gen-X and especially Millennials than I do the Baby Boomer I should be. I skew more towards the postmodern worldview of youth than I embrace the modern perspective people my age are supposed to hold.

Maybe I was born too soon. Or maybe I just have a young heart.

Either way, it doesn’t matter, because age isn’t a number; it’s an attitude.

Book Review: Smiling Again

Smiling Again: Coming Back to Life and Faith After Brain Surgery

Smiling Again: Coming Back to Life and Faith After Brain Surgery, by Sally StapBy Sally Stap (reviewed by Jerry Barrett)

Through Sally’s written account I was helped to understand my father’s own post-tumor life. I was a young school kid when my father went to Mayo clinic and came back partially paralyzed. As I read through Sally’s detailed story of pre thru post-surgery life I often imagined my father’s adjustments.

Sally Stap’s authentic, often raw, response to letting go of life as she knew it kept me turning the pages to see how she handled the next adjustment. She throw’s in a unique wry sense of humor occasionally as she recounts the uninvited journey. With an honest faith mixed with shake down moments she writes out loud what most would keep within the walls of their souls.

Sally also sprinkles some practical advice for those helping a friend or loved one through this kind of surgery. This book will help caregivers, patients, and loved ones find a smile, even if it is a half-smile, like my father often gave me.

[Smiling Again: Coming Back to Life and Faith After Brain Surgery, by Sally Stap. Published by Morgan James Publishing, 2014, ISDN: 978-1614487968, 200 pages, $12.97.]