A Few Words About 5%

Days come around when everything is a mess.  The bills can’t be paid.  My clothes are looking ratty and two sizes too small.  My kids seem to have lost their minds.  My wife seems to have lost her mind.  I have definitely lost my mind.

The lawn mower won’t start.  I can’t find a hammer.  I can’t remember where I put my keys.  My shoe strings are tied in knots.

A piece of siding has blow off the house and settled in “Who Knows Where, Missouri”.  There’s a wet spot on the ceiling and the garage door opener isn’t working.

I’m out of milk.  I’m out of coffee.  The microwave is on the fritz (people should say that more, fritz is hilarious), the oven doesn’t seem to ever get to the temperature I set it for and the fridge is about as cold as a summer day in St. Louis.

There are days like that and then, everything goes wrong!

By the time bedtime rolls around, my mind is full of solutions that are impossible, detours that are impassable and budgets that are improbable.

Yep, there are days like that.

I don’t like days like that.

But, I have weathered months and even years like that.  There are times that coming home from work meant kicking back and repairing two cars, a lawn mower, a leaky roof and figuring out the weird smell in the back of the yard.

Who wants to quit work and go home to that?

I’m sitting here today looking over my overwhelming list of what awaits me over the next few days.

Based on past experience, I can do that the things I have to do with a broken leg in a heavy cast while standing on my head on a bed of nails.

It is hard to go through those times.  The answers seem so limited.  The future seems so bleak.  The work involved seems too enormous for any one human to push through.

Here’s advice from one guy that has been through it and can manage to go through it (although grudgingly) again.

Pick out ninety-five percent of it and say, “I don’t care if it ever gets done.”

That’s right. Set it in you mind it is just there and will never be taken care of.  Throw it on God’s lap and say, “I can’t do it.  It’s up to you.”

No, this doesn’t magically leave you with nothing to do and it doesn’t make you wake up to a care-free world tomorrow.  But, it DOES leave you with a small pile of 5% to tackle today.

One thing at a time, one day at a time.  We, addicts and alcoholics and any other twelve stepper has learned this difficult lesson.  If the rest of you life is too big of an obstacle for you to climb, then just climb today.

I’ve been through this.  Grab hold of the one thing that must be done today.  Hang on till you push, pull, twist or beat it into submission.

Then move on to the next contender in your 5%.

Here is something that happens a lot, that 95% pile that is sitting in God’s lap either took care of itself somehow due to unforeseen solutions that miraculously appeared because your tunnel vision was forcing you to stare at the impossible solution, problems became obsolete just because they weren’t problems at all, just perceived things that could happen in the future, other problems that were taken care of due to the 5% you were working on successfully and also God’s intervention.  I believe all these things are God’s intervention.

The next step is to repeat the last step.

Luke 12:27 “Look at the lilies and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. 28 And if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?”

I’ve found that doing this never increased my faith in me much.  I am still a procrastination, irrational, mistake-prone jughead like God created me for some crazy reason.  But it certainly has exponentially increased my faith in him.  My faith still must look like a BB in a box car to God but it has grown multitudes over the last decade.

I’m no life expert.  But, I have been through some mighty big messes.  The seemed like they would literally kill me.

Here I am.  Looking at my day, knowing stuff will go sideways and upside-down and I can do this.  I can do it because I have God’s lap to lay it in.  He’ll hold it as sure as I’ll sit and hold twenty toys and balance them precariously if my grandson asks me to.

After I tire of holding them, I quietly put them where they belong and he doesn’t even notice.  God’s done that for me.  That’s what he does.

That’s what he’ll always do.

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There Is Hope

There’s always hope.

Even when what I want has been crushed beneath the heel of disappointment and failure, there is hope.

Even when what I need seems to be out of reach and I feel I am falling into a pit of despair, there is hope.

Even when I am sitting in the wreckage of my own actions, there is hope.

Even when those I love betray me and pierce my heart to the very deepest depths, there is hope.

Even when the thought of a brand new day terrifies and causes anxiety and fear, there is hope.

Even when someone dear to me is taken from this world, there is hope.

Even when hope seems lost in the pain that just won’t go away, there is hope.

Even if all these things combine into a storm that overwhelms and threatens to drown me in the crashing waves, there is hope.

There’s always hope.

Psalm 39:7 And so, Lord, where do I put my hope?
My only hope is in you.

God’s Got This

I kind of have writer’s block this morning. I’ll post this from a year ago!

New Hope for Dry Bones

I think that it is easy for me to convince myself that God is struggling to keep things under control. After all, I pray and don’t get everything I pray for. I read his words and no thunderous voices come down out of the heavens and tell me which way I should go. I wander off the road he has made for me and a big hand doesn’t reach down, pick me up and move me back to where I ought to be. That’s the way my brain works sometimes. I see all these people around me and see all the wrong being done and all the misguided effort being wasted. So I figure people are so messed up that God is having a hard time keeping up with all of them.

But God isn’t having any problems at all. People are having problems. Mostly people are having a problem…

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It’s January Fifteenth

Well, here I am again, smack in the middle of January.  This is the hardest part of the year for me.  The distractions of the holidays are past, the days are short, the air is cold and the man known as Mike Ridenour feels more melancholy and down.  There have been some pretty rough January 15th’s in my past.

Thirty-one years ago, when January 15th rolled around, I was sitting in rehab beginning my third day of what I was afraid would be a very short sobriety from cocaine that was bound to end in tragedy.

Two days ago marks thirty-one years of being drug-free.

You might think that would be the end of my self-inflicted pain and addictions but it isn’t.  I’ve often been found at this time of year in slavery to one thing or another trying desperately, but in vain, to find some way out of my misery.

Psalm 55:4 My heart pounds in my chest.
The terror of death assaults me.
5 Fear and trembling overwhelm me,
and I can’t stop shaking.
6 Oh, that I had wings like a dove;
then I would fly away and rest!
7 I would fly far away
to the quiet of the wilderness.

Yeah, I tried to sprout wings in all sorts of ways, ways that made the dark darker, the cold colder and the hopelessness more hopeless.

Sprouting wings is not practical, effective or possible.  Yet, I tried to find some way to escape out into the great unknown where it has to be better than here.

The great unknown.

It isn’t better.

I cannot run or fly from what is inside me.  I cannot medicate it nor pacify it.  It is there.

On this very morning it is there.

I’m not going to even contemplate flying this morning.  I’ve learned that the only way I can chase the darkness is with light.  The only way to devour the cold is through the fire.  The only way to shatter hopelessness is to find hope.

I have to apply these things to my mid-winter depression or whatever it is that smacks me in the face every single January directly on them.  I can’t do that from the distance I put between me and the part of me that tries to drag me down.  I face it with my hand firmly planted in the hand of God, my feet resting on his salvation and my eyes looking the winter monster right straight in the eye.

Psalm 55:16 But I will call on God,
and the Lord will rescue me.
17 Morning, noon, and night
I cry out in my distress,
and the Lord hears my voice.
18 He ransoms me and keeps me safe
from the battle waged against me,
though many still oppose me.
19 God, who has ruled forever,
will hear me and humble them.

I’ve finally learned that this isn’t a quick prayer and I’m good time of year for me.  It is morning, noon and night and then some.  It is a time for me to firmly establish a long, healthy walk with God throughout the entire day.

What once swallowed my faith and spit it out on the ground in a gross, unrecognizable glob is not the victim of it.

Once, I realized that this dark time lasts only for a while and that God is perfectly happy to walk along beside me and show me that the limits I place on him can be stretched further and further with each passing day.

That day over thirty-one years ago, the day I sat alone in that hospital ward pondering if this was the end of me or not, the day I thought I had lost it all, was the day that I slowly began to turn away from my own understanding.

Now, it took time for me to figure it out and I am still doing a lot of figuring.  There have been some pretty bad winters for me over the past three decades.  But, this morning as I sit here and look around me at the ones that come to visit this time of year every single year, I’m not thinking about wings. In fact, I’m thinking about taking them fishing and letting them see just how happy I can be, even with them around.

They are weak and I intend to keep them that way.  I’m not going to feed them.  I’ll not be giving them what they want.  I’ll just cry out to God and he will humble them.

I don’t pretend they aren’t there.  I’m satisfied knowing they are finally small enough to be used as stepping stones to better days.

 

Be the Way

As I’m sure you’ve heard, at least those of you that live in the United States, the snow did not fail to materialize and the “Arch Effect” failed us miserably.  We had a snow event that was significant.

It wasn’t a big deal to those living in Minnesota or Siberia or the Arctic tundra.  But for us here in Missouri, it was a lot.  We got right around a foot of snow.

For me, it meant putting the F-350 into four-wheel drive and getting the snow blower out and having an excuse to sit on the couch and watch television.

But, I made church as scheduled, sort of.  We only had one service on Sunday morning instead of two.

The size of storm it takes to really mess things up is relative.  I remember working near Dallas.  In fact, I was staying in Dallas and driving to Sherman, Texas to work.

A rinky-dink little bit of mixed precipitation hit the area and I looked out the window and thought, “This is minor. I’m heading to work.”

I got on the highway and sat.  The traffic was awful.  Cars were off the road in every direction.  Lights and flashers and sirens created the atmosphere of a massive global catastrophe.

It was a tiny bit of snow.

At the next exit, I left the highway and went back to the hotel to wait out the carnage.

It seems there were not the fleets of trucks to spread salt and plow and the drivers just didn’t have experience with that weather.

I was working in Kokomo, Indiana for an extended period of time.  It snowed for about twenty-three days straight.  There are no hills in Kokomo but, there is wind.  The snow came down and then it went sideways making giant drifts.

I drove to work every day in those conditions without seeing a single flashing light.  I did, however, see a LOT of snowplows and trucks spreading various concoctions to melt snow and ice.

I know that I can sit in my house and watch the weather forecasts for Kokomo and Dallas and I see it a little different than a lot of people.  I know that how it looks in black and white isn’t quite right.  What is a big deal for Dallas is not so tough for Kokomo and when the summer heat hits ninety-five in Dallas it is just another day but for Kokomo it is a life-threatening ordeal.

I remember being in Kalispell, Montana one summer and the temps were going to get into the eighties.  There were actually news stories about how to deal with the heat.  Being from St. Louis, I know about heat.  I know St. Louis hot is the worst there is but 105 in Austin is worse than the worst there is.

Well, I used a lot of words to say this:  Someone’s circumstances are not a real good indicator of the stress and pain they are going through.  It depends on where they are.

If they are living in the middle of Depression, Downdeepinside they may not have what seems to be big things pawing at their gut but, in reality, may be coming close to the end of their rope.

Someone living in Happy Happy, Joy Joy may have the world beating on them and not even bat an eye.

Look beyond circumstances when you see someone.  Why?

Because they may need YOUR help.  Maybe you have been there and know what it takes to get out.  Maybe YOU know the way.  Maybe YOU are their way.

I’ve learned to not be blind-sided when the guy that seems to be who I want to be walks up and tells me he is struggling in ways I never thought possible.  Most people don’t broadcast where they are.  Heck, they don’t know where they are.

They are lost.

People try real hard to act like they aren’t lost.  Just like me when I am behind the wheel with no clue where I have driven my truck.

“I know where we are, I’m just a little off track.”

Nope, I’m lost.  Admitting being lost is hard.

A lot of people look like they know where they are going and life looks great but we don’t know where they are.  Make an effort to find out.  I don’t run into a lot of people that don’t need a little guidance, advice from someone that has been where they are and know the way out.

Be the way.

Was Doubting Thomas Really Doubting Thomas?

This kind of goes along with my post from this morning! Thanks, Wally!

Truth in Palmyra

Doubting Thomas. We have serious doubts about that guy, don’t we? Poor Thomas really gets a bad rap from Christians sometimes. I mean, the resurrected Jesus walks in a room, and Thomas doesn’t even believe that; he demands that he be able to touch the wounds in our Lord’s side before he will believe. That big dummy!

Friends, are we being fair to poor Thomas? I challenge any Christian who has never had doubt about anything in their own Christian walks to step forward and enlighten the rest of us as to what makes them such super Christians. We all doubt, and that is fact. We may not doubt God’s existence, His grace or His salvation; yet, we doubt something. Did you worry today about anything? Boom…you have doubted God. I say we cut Thomas some slack, here.

I do it too; it makes me feel like super Christian to…

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Snow? I Doubt It

It is going to snow here, allegedly, anywhere from 0″-12″.  My whole life has been lived in Missouri, for the most part.  The weather here is a little unpredictable.

That may be an understatement.  I believe this is where they send weathermen as punishment.  If the weather here isn’t unpredictable, then we have just never in the last five decades had a decent weatherman.

I can’t tell you how many times big snow was predicted and the storm divided like the Red Sea and went right around the Gateway Arch, to the north and to the south and left all the poor kids leaving their sleds behind to go to school with nary a dusting.

It’s jokingly referred to as the “Arch Effect”.  It has happened with severe weather, as well, so it isn’t always a bad thing, whatever is going on that inexplicably makes weather take a detour around us.

The stores will be busy today, selling ice melt, snow shovels and all the ingredients to make french toast, which appears to be the food of choice for days we might possibly get snowed in.

I’ll believe the snow is coming when I see it.  Yep, I’m Show-Me through and through.

I’m sitting here this morning doubting we’ll get much, if any, of that white powder falling from the sky.  I wouldn’t be surprised if it came but I wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t.

Which brings to mind another doubter, Thomas.

He’s been much maligned because he said he’d believe Jesus was alive when he saw it.

But Thomas was just a regular guy when it came down to it.  If my best friend, the president, the most profound scientific mind of all time or the head of the Bigfoot search committee told me they saw Jesus walking around in the streets of Troy, Missouri, I know I would doubt.

I’d think it was all just wishful thinking, hallucinations or delusions.

Sure, Thomas had seen a lot of miracles.

John 20: 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”
28 “My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.
29 Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”

Think about this.  Thomas was one of the original twelve.  God knew all along he was a skeptic at heart just as he knew Judas’ loyalty was an issue.  Yet, he chose Thomas.  Thomas isn’t known for a lot in the Bible except his change from skepticism to belief.

This belief was strong enough that he was willing to die for it and that is just what he did.

Here is a miracle of the scripture.  God wrote the story of the life of Jesus in real life, with real people that had real feelings and thoughts.  He knew we would need to address doubt in our hearts and minds.  He gave us Thomas, the skeptic, the doubter, the realist, to show that the miracle of Jesus standing up in that tomb, stepping out into the light of day and walking back into relevance was not wishful thinking or a story or even a mirage.  It was real.  He touched the hands, the wounds and he believed what he saw!

This wasn’t all about Thomas way back at the beginning of A.D.  It was about us, the doubters, the skeptics, that can’t see, that can’t touch or feel.  Jesus even spoke right to us, “Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”

I still have my doubts about the snow that is looming in the near future.  But, I have no doubts about Jesus.  Thomas addressed them for me.  He’s kind of a hero that way.  It had to be tempting to just go along with the crowd.

I don’t feel like I have not seen anymore.  I have seen my life without Jesus and I have seen it since he has taken a high place in my heart.  I can see him.  I can see his power and mercy and love for me.  He’s here.  Working inside me and removing my doubts one day at a time.

I Don’t Want To Go To Work

OK, I don’t want to go to work today.  I really, really don’t want to.

I’ll bet you want to know why.  Well, I’m going to tell you even if you don’t.  That’s how it is for writers, we get to say it even if no one wants to listen.

See, work did some restructuring.  No one lost their jobs but a LOT of people aren’t sure of what their job is any more.  Most of them don’t like where they will be doing it.

As far as I know, I’m going to just be plugging along doing the same stuff I’ve always done…too much.

So, the ones affected are terrified as to how the change is going to impact their job and, in some cases, their whole lives.  The ones least affected are worried that something else is coming down the pike and they will be cast into the midst of seeming chaos.

I guess I could worry about that, too.  But I’m not.

I’ve been in far worse situations.  I’ve sat across the table looking at a man as he explained they could hire two guys to do what I do for the same salary.  So, I was being let go.

Me.  The guy that held down a job no matter how ridiculously I live my life, how irresponsibly, no matter what.  I kept a job and suddenly, I was unemployed.

When I found out, the wind came out of my sails.  I had, in a few short sentences, a handshake and an envelope with severance pay in it, become somehow less of who I was.  I felt like crying, screaming, running, crawling, curling up in a ball and jumping off the roof all at the same time.

Honestly, I went from being depressed to hurtling into the darkest depression of my life that lasted many years.

Even when God intervened, I had still lost part of myself.  I couldn’t be quite as grateful as I ought to be because I felt un-restored, lost and quite afraid of what was going to punch me in the gut next.  I was afraid.

Even though God provided, I was afraid.

For some reason, I thought that at any minute, the rug would fly from under me and I’d fall and God wouldn’t be there this time, next time.

When God brought me to this opportunity, this job, I was still that same man.  I came into this building afraid.  Some people saw it as moody, arrogant and obnoxious, but I was afraid.  I didn’t think I could do that whole losing a job thing again.

But, I will sit in my office today and not be afraid.  I will see fear all around me.  But, I am not going to be fearful no matter how strong the tide of fear gets.  After all, a little fear can swirl into a great big storm of fear, dragging all who feel it in.

Isaiah 35:4 Say to those with fearful hearts,
“Be strong, and do not fear,
for your God is coming to destroy your enemies.
He is coming to save you.”

The enemy is fear, depression, anxiety, addiction, grief and the whole rest of the list of things that take over humankind’s lives.

Make God your god!  Do it now, right now while you are still getting ready for a day of uncertainty.  These things are coming for you but God is going to destroy them and save you.

Just make God you god.

Put the job behind him.  Put those people behind him.  Put that uncertainty behind him.  Put anything that has caused you not to see him behind him, so that HE is the prominent figure in your thoughts and actions, hopes and dreams and your reasons to get up in the morning.

No, work isn’t where I want to be this morning.  But I’m not going to be there alone, even if I am the only one that shows up.  God is coming with me and my enemies are cruisin’ for a bruisin’ today.

Finding Joy

Yesterday, I hung a light fixture for my dad.  Well, recently I have hung several but there is one type that seems impossible to install without a great deal of aggravation and frustration and maybe a few other “ations” that elude my mind at this moment.

Some of the fixtures I put up for him were simple, just remove the old one, undo some wire nuts, re-do the wire nut on the new light and hang it up.

I like that.

I want life to be like that.  Just pull out anger, do some quick re-wiring of my brain and “voila”, a patient and gentle man emerges.

Yep.  That sounds real good.

But most of my life is more like the other light fixture, the one that weighs enough to cave in the ceiling, that has more parts than a Ford and if one single thing is done wrong, the whole works has to be taken apart and re-assembled.

I guarantee you that even though I didn’t say anything out loud that would not have been appropriate for all audiences, it was racing through my mind as that light tormented me every which way but up.

I think it is a pretty good example of the road many of us have to walk.  We deal with addiction.  We get our act together, start putting something positive in place of the old miserable stuff that controlled us before and “Blam”, we hit the switch and it doesn’t work.

I see a lot of people that just leave that light hang there.  It was so close to being new and exciting but it didn’t work so they gave up.

I did that a LOT of times.

If I have learned nothing else over the course of the last several years it is this, try again.

Try again.

Take that whole seemingly useless pile of what looks like it ought to work and doesn’t and dismantle it.  Give it a give going over.  So often, we just had a little piece out of place or a wire not quite connected.

It only takes one small detail to make something not function like it should.  Take it apart and rebuild it, follow the instructions more closely, pay more attention to what you are doing and hang that sucker up one more time.  Don’t just let all that work hang there and walk away.

James 1:2 Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. 3 For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. 4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

I don’t know if I could have hung out with James.  I mean this guy is kind of nuts.  In my book, troubles still don’t mean joy.  But my book isn’t done being written.

See, there were times I would have hung that light up, flipped the switch, been disappointed and walked away forever.  When that trouble came, I experienced nothing but failure.

But yesterday, since I have hung so many lights over the years, I had no intention of giving up, EVER!  I was going to hang that light and it was going to work even if I had to dismantle it a hundred times.  It was going to light up when I hit that switch.

My shoulder kind of ached from that awkward position there on the ladder trying to balance a heavy light, wire it up, turn screws and play the piano (OK, I wasn’t trying to play the piano but I felt like I was trying), my neck was tired of looking up, my arms felt kind of numb, but I was NOT going to quit.

Before long, I was putting the shades on, installing the bulbs and the light switch went on.  Beautiful light filled the room and I sat down in a chair and then the joy came.

I wasn’t doing cartwheels or a cheer or even laughing.  I just felt joy.  I felt joy over a light going on the ceiling.  I sat and looked at all the new light fixtures giving off light and admired the way it made the whole place better than it was.

Joy.

Nope.  Trials and trying over and over again aren’t ever going to be a good time.  But they are an opportunity for me to move over on the other side of my efforts and stand in the light of success and not the shadows of failure.

So, if you relapse, if you get angry and punch a wall or a nose, if you get scared and run and hide when you should have stood, if you fall apart when you should have been strong, if you walk when you should have run, try again.

Have the courage to rip everything apart and see what went wrong and do it right.  Find joy that can’t be found by giving up and giving in.

Why I Need Stress

Stress.  It isn’t exactly what a person wants.  I have never, not one single time, gone to God in prayer and asked for more stress today.  I’ve never told my wife that I want to be stressed out by her.  I’ve yet to ask my kids to stress me out.  I haven’t gone to work, riding in my truck thinking, “I sure hope work is more stressful.”

Nope.  I don’t ask for stress because I don’t like it.

Sometimes I feel like I am pulled in four different directions and at any moment, I’m going to snap because I am at the end of how far I can be stretched.  This tension causes stress.

But, I’m not sure we can survive as a species without stress.  There has to be some outside force that causes us to act.  Without any stress at all, I may not budge from wherever I am to where I should be.

Stress is what makes me go from being hungry to finding something to eat.  Stress is motivating because if I don’t move the stress gets stronger and stronger and I either move or break.  Most people don’t break.

Even me, with the added stress of depression and anxiety, have not completely snapped.  I have gotten into some pretty bad places but the stress of being there caused me to get out.

The secret to living a stress-free life is to just live a stressful life.

That makes no sense because there is no stress free life, no matter what some quack selling a book tries to tell you.

All the people living stress free lives will now type whatever they want in the space below:

 

Wow, they sure are a quiet bunch.

See, stress shouldn’t be run from.  I tried that and all it did was pull harder and harder on me and pretty soon I came shooting back far beyond center like a stretched out rubber band when someone lets go of it.

Stress is often due to a problem.  It seems really tough to deal with when I have a problem.  But when I run headlong into the bad circumstance and do all I can do about it, the stress is relieved.

Sometimes, I can’t fix a problem and I worry.  Worry, feeds stress and I think it injects the stress with some steroids.

Often, for me anyway, stress comes from not listening to God.  I get stressed because I am going the wrong way, making more strain and tension in my life.  It isn’t going to stop until I turn around and leave my selfish and sinful nature and find myself in the place God is moving me to.

Sure beats the slingshot method of being forcefully snapped back in line.

I’m no expert on stress other than I have dealt with a lot of it and have learned that it is going to be there all the time if I am the least bit mentally healthy.  A person with no stress is pretty near dead.

My truck is out there in the parking lot right now.  It isn’t experiencing much stress.  However, it is sitting there taking up space and isn’t much use to anyone.

If I go out there and turn the key, all sorts of things race through its computer.  It begins to do something.  Parts are moving.  It is slowly beginning to take on a little damage.  But it is ready to work.

When I put it in gear, the brake is fighting the accelerator, fuel is being pushed into the engine, the engine is burning fuel, sparks are flying in the cylinders, gears are meshed and turning in the transmission, lights are coming alive and shining into the dark.

There is stress.  The truck wants to move.  It wants to pull.  It is ready to haul.  Without all those things pulling on the truck at once, nothing really works right.

Stop running from stress.  Run toward it.  Nothing relieves too much stress like closing the gap between myself and what is causing it.  Often that’s all it takes, to turn around and look it in the eye.