What To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do: Just STOP. Now.

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Photo: Picsart

“Your card is expired.”

So said the email from WordPress notifying me that if I want to be here with you, I best tend to business. I do and so I did. It was a bit of a gut-punch, though, realizing how I’ve ignored this space…and you…in the past weeks, months.

The blog has been waaay down the list of things that take my time right now. And there may be some changes in what you see here. Hope you won’t mind too much, as living things are always growing, changing.

In the world of blogging inattention is the [nearly] unpardonable sin for so many reasons. Chief among them is how it dishonors the relationship with you, Dear Reader. I’m sorry…really, I am. And given how sporadically I post, there likely isn’t one unless, for some reason, you know me in real time.

Real time is what we’re all short on, right? And all for good reason. Take this last week, for instance.

  • It began with a an out-of-town work trip Monday and Tuesday to attend a board meeting and plan next year’s spiritual formation curriculum. Yay!! You really shouldn’t miss this…
  • Wednesday was errands and home life–dog food, prescriptions, groceries, laundry.
  • Thursday, a neighbor needed help selling, moving, late into the evening–county permits, dishonest movers…grrrrr
  • Friday was grandkid-sitting–foster babies, Mom attending court
  • Saturday and Sunday there were family celebrations–graduations, recitals, parties and all the activity that produces.
  • In between, me and Mr. S ate and slept, watched a Father Brown mystery here and there (yes, I confess to a BBC addiction), fielded emails, texts, attended church and tended to animals and aging parents (Mom’s in the hospital, the goats are out…again!).

Add to that the business of renovation that has upended my environment in a big way and a digestive system that has decided to go rogue–which is a little like carrying a whiny toddler on your hip all day. It’s all part and parcel of this life I love but it demands of me, of us, an outward focus that requires an inward stability if we’re to love freely as we move about in it.

Inward stability has to be nurtured, which languishes when we run short on time. Words like margin, solitude, reflection all feel a bit contrived in such a state. Yet it’s exactly what’s needed. I have learned to build these things into my days in small ways, but sometimes there’s a need to stop the swirling–whatever the cost–and build in wider spaces, intentional times to rebound. Spaciousness in which to think, pray, and listen, which helps us discern a bigger picture, can get relegated to the “B” list. Action and conversation can get prickly, relationships become characterized by tension–audible or silent.

When that happens, it’s time to stop. When the toddler on my hip refuses to be consoled or content, I know I’ve pushed too hard. It’s time to stop. When there is no regularity of rhythm, it’s time to stop.

Like a pacemaker that’s out of sync and must be shocked to restore proper function, we may need the stark interruption of a period of silence. We may need even more. But always it starts with stopping.

Which is what I’m going to do. Now.

Hope to see you more often. Ciao.

 

 

Silencio!! My Prayer Following the November 8th Election

 The LORD is in his holy temple;

let all the earth be silent before him. (Habakkuk 2:20)

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My delightful Argentinian foreign language professor was fond of shouting this at the class when we got a little rowdy. It’s the single word that comes to mind each time I listen for the prayer God is praying in me, beginning in the wee hours of the morning following the contentious political campaign that reached its zenith on November 8, 2016.

Whether you are in ecstasy or lament following today’s national election in the US, You, too, may find silence to be tremendously restorative and redemptive at this moment in time. It’s the best gift I can offer.

Peace.
Gwen


What is the prayer you are hearing, God’s invitation to you?

Thoughts On Desire: Do you even KNOW what you’re fighting over?

Is anybody else confused about desire? On the one hand “God will give you the desires of your heart..” On the other, “The heart is deceitful…who can know it…” If you’ve been around the Christian faith for any length of time you’ve likely heard a sermon (or forty) about the tug-o-war between what I want vs. what God wants.

Digging into desire includes:

  • Opening to consider God’s dream of us–seeing
  • Recognizing where we presently resist invitations to freedom–suspicions
  • Looking at what has shaped us–self-awareness

Seeing
What if the more in touch with our desires we become, the closer we come to “knowing God’s will for our lives,” a Christian phrase that has caused many well-intentioned high school seniors ulcer-inducing anxiety which turns into  adult exhaustion?

What if we put some effort into becoming aware of what we want and responding to that, instead of making “God’s will” a mysterious code that only a lucky and smart few are able to crack? What if God’s will is inside us, not outside us? What if God’s will is less about what we do to be loved and more about our living into our identity as The Beloved? What if we paid better attention to what our hearts are already whispering to us? It is not the only factor in discernment, but it is a critical one.

Suspicions
Are you suspicious about the topic of desire? Perhaps it is warranted since we know that desire gone awry can lead us down nefarious paths.

But what if instead we put all that suspicious energy into the exciting prospect that God puts in us what he wants us to want, according to who God dreams of our becoming?

Self-Awareness
My recent trip to the cemetery made me think about what I want–but not, as you might assume, in the bucket-list sense of the word. It felt good to be there since it had been a while.

Dad’s marker reads, “Gone to Heaven; meet me there.” Beside it, Mom’s declares, “Beloved Wife, Mother and Grandmother.” Characteristic of headstones, they each capture some essence of a life but neither is comprehensive in scope.

I only lived in their home for my first eighteen years yet their influence left an indelible imprint that 40-plus years of marriage and a life independent of their authority did little to obscure.

For instance, my penchant for overthinking, and my appreciation for road trips and ranches comes from Dad while Mom left me with unparalleled expectations for grandmothering. I tried to love quilting and crafting because she did. Honest. It took some time (and a lot of unfinished projects!) to discover that those were her preferences. I am still discovering my own.

As I have grown in self-awareness, I have begun to understand why I have difficulty with knowing my own desires, or giving myself permission to have desires at all.

For example, Mom had a charming way of steering my younger self which was full of FOMO (fear of missing out). “Oh, no…you don’t want that,” she would say with a chuckle,  avoiding many a meltdown by gently whoosing away my childish requests as if they were nothing of substance to cause either of us a moment’s concern. And for the moment, they didn’t.

Such strategies work for petulant children, but over the long-term it becomes important to name one’s needs. The inability to do so can result in:

  • Paralysis in choosing
  • Fear of asking
  • Feelings of unworthiness
  • Holding too tightly to acquired possessions
  • Impacting every area of life from deciding on a career to shopping for shoes

Perhaps what you want and what God wants aren’t all that different. It just may take a little excavating. What awaits is the freedom of discovering that what God desires, God has already put in your heart.


How can you dig into your own desire?

Get curious. It may be buried deep. Ask God to show you what you want.

Notice what your heart is drawn toward. 

Pay attention and record it over the next week or so at the end of each day.

What do you notice in nature, scripture, spontaneous thought, snippets of engaging conversation, memories that randomly surface?

What might God be showing you about your desires though these moments?

How are you responding or resisting? Why?

  • Spend a few minutes in reflection at the end of the time
  • Note any common thread(s)
  • Talk to a trusted friend
  • Trust your desires to God

BONUS: 
Ruth Haley Barton of The Transforming Center does great work around the topic of desire. If any of this resonates with you, you can watch her talk about it here.

[Mom and Dad raised Boston Terriers. I had to include this photo which looks just like theirs. :)]

 

 

Perks and Process: The Why and How of Memorizing

 

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Parroting with perfect 6-year-old Elizabethan elocution, I was rewarded with glowing approval.

“Blessed is the man”-or person, my dad astutely responded to my early gender sensitivities, “that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly…” (Psa. 1 KJV)

“And God is the redeemer of every situation…”

Someone said that to me once, a line I committed to memory and have never–well, sometimes–forgotten.

Mmm…Tasty!

Those same words, once sweet in my mouth, turned to gravel over time. The experience of having the Bible crammed down Continue reading

Injured? 3 Essentials for Returning to the Game (Pt. 2)

Jeans with hole in knee

When we sustain an injury, a little self-care may be necessary if we’re to return to the game. Consider taking an intentional approach to recovery. (Click here for Part 1 of this two-part post.)

Acknowledge – Be real with ourselves and our situation

Pride is a killer. I hate it when I have to admit that everything’s NOT okay. But sometimes it’s just not. And while our difficulties don’t need to be broadcast to everyone, we need to be willing to tell the truth at least to ourselves. It’s normal and healthy, and in fact good Continue reading

Injured? 3 Essentials for Returning to the Game (Pt. 1)

Man and woman playing pickleball outdoors

Courtesy of Creative Commons. Photo credit here.

Pickleball. I started playing two or three years ago at my husband’s urging as a way to get some moderate exercise–and so he would quit nagging me. I figured it had something to do with the comic strip that follows the antics of Earl and Opal Pickles as they learn the ropes of retirement, and while it is popular with the retired set, don’t be fooled by the association. It’s actually a rather rigorous court sport originating in the Northwest, which shouldn’t be played by people with bad knees.

Some sessions result in more-than-moderate exercise. Ergo, six months in, my “all out or get out” approach netted me a severe sprained ankle that sidelined me for the next Continue reading

It’s Not Complicated: How the Liturgical Year Can Simplify Your Life (Lent, Pt.2)

Too Many Words
If all it takes is words, I am, with Paul, a Pharisee of the Pharisees. Mr. S has been known to say, “That’s too many words. Can you please say that another way?” I’ve learned to be less offended because he’s right. (To my accusers who would say I am for other reasons, I can only reply, “Likely, guilty as charged,” and ask your forgiveness.)

Clarity seems to reside in the DNA of some. Others of us arrive only by hearing ourselves talk a thing through. I know because we have lamented it together–after I went first! It does tend to complicate things (many thanks to our longsuffering friends) but we have other gifts.

Maybe the John 7 account of Jesus’ exchange with the religious leaders of the day is just for us. But I don’t think so. I think there is something more systemic at issue than the word count.

Where Am I?
In the last post, I wrote about the value of observing the liturgical or church year, how it simplifies one’s life serving as both guide and reminder. Today, I write about an insight from that practice, one that keeps me mindful of my location in time like a GPS does as I travel.

Cover of book: Engage-Pastel brush strokes

In the day’s reading in Engage, the brass is getting all worked up because Jesus pokes around in their insistance that connection with God requires navigating their complex labyrinth of requirements (John 7).

Historically, what began as ten reasonable guidelines given for the good of the whole became a highly developed code to illuminate humanity’s need of grace (that in the present cultural context seems foreign at best, repulsive at worst). Enforcement of The Law of Love fell into the capable hands of a corrupted power structure until life with God was understood as an exhaustive and exhausting system of external behaviors–Leviticus on steroids. But Jesus entered the conversation, cut through the crap and created clarity where clerics had clouded most everything with complexity. Yeah, like that.

Aaarrghh!
Spending time in the scene revealed how easily I, too, confuse internal consent with external compliance, a heavy yoke, a way to prove to others, to myself, to God, that all is well with my soul. And how easily I expect my yoke to be worn by another, at least invisibly if not aloud!

For example…

  • Squirming if another expresses or experiences their creativity or passion or restraint as I do–or don’t (Tattoo or not…, hands lifted or not…?)
  • Uses a vocabulary with which I am uncomfortable or unfamiliar to explain their life experience or mine. (Do you get pissed of or just really ticked?)
  • Prioritizing a particular value over one another has deemed more valuable (Bible study before mercy ministry, or vice versa?)

Judging, assessing, measuring… Exhausting! As long as external behaviors come into compliance, I am to assume that internal consent has been given, or that the reverse will be true?

Frankly, Jesus lifts from me the burden of assuming anything. It’s not in my job description, though I’m pathologically inclined to assist wherever I think the watchful eye of the Spirit may have overlooked something!

A Bigger Story
Living the liturgical year calls me back in regular rhythm to the Bigger Story, the simple invitation to a life with God, here and hereafter. It tells me God can be trusted with that Big Story and with my little one. It walks me through the one Jesus lived on earth rather than clamoring after this or that variation on The Theme.

Any one of our pet distractions (the nicer word might be emphases), interesting, exhilarating, or well-intentioned as they may at first be, can, without the larger canopy of grace, become its own complicated system of dos and don’ts; death-dealing dogmas with heavy, excess baggage we are not asked to carry. Before we know it, we lose our way. Centuries of religious tragedy, comedy and glorious, epic love story are proof.

Instead, hear Jesus’ invitation: Come to ME, you who are weary. I will give you rest.

Jesus + X = Rest
I suppose I could be the only one. But maybe not. My early experiences of “coming to ME” had moments of relief, but they resulted in my finding anything but true rest. Over time, it came to be understood less like an invitation to fine dining and more like a McDonald’s menu (Jesus plus X = the “full meal deal”):

  • Jesus plus the proper moral code
  • Jesus plus the right social group
  • Jesus plus the right theological language
  • Jesus plus the right physical manifestations
  • Jesus plus the acceptable fashion
  • Jesus plus a sanctioned career
  • Jesus plus a quota of gatherings attended
  • Jesus plus the right political ideaology
  • Jesus plus the right view of eschatology
  • Jesus plus a specific worship style
  • Jesus plus financial sacrifice
  • Jesus plus _______________________________ (fill in the very long blank).

No longer. Less truly is more. If you’re in a similar place, perhaps you’re ready to hear again–or for the first time, the invitation to rest, to step onto the simple path of trust and walk with God through the eyes and life of Jesus… for the love of God! It really is that simple.

AND YOU?  It’s midway through Lent, the seaon when generally we give up something to give our attention more fully to what God offers. What “plus” are you carrying that makes your journey heavy? Are you unaware of a “plus” you might be asking another to carry? How might God be inviting you to them up?

In simple rest,
Gwen


P.S.
Lest it seem that rolling to the rhythms of the liturgical year is just one more “Jesus plus ______,” this:

“Once again I should emphasize that what I’ve been describing here is not a matter of biblical rule. You don’t have to recognize the Christian year to be a faithful follower of Jesus. But the experience of countless believers throughout the centuries should at least encourage you to consider shaping your yearly life by the themes and narratives of Scripture – and this is, after all, what the Christian year is really all about.”
(Mark Roberts, Patheos Blog, Bible Gateway)


It’s Not Complicated: How the Liturgical Year Can Simplify Your Life (Lent, Pt.1)

“What’s a good Charismatic girl like you doing in a practice like this?!”

EngageHere we are, well into the new year. Advent, Christmas and Ephipany are behind us, the first period of Ordinary Time is nearly over and Lent is just around the corner.

A couple of years ago, I worked through Engage (Kai Nilsen & others), Renovare’s 2014 Lenten Guide, and what I experienced stuck with me. That’s one of the things the liturgical year does. It provides natural markers for those special moments in your journey, like photos next to that giant sequoia you took on your recent road trip (which I almost posted the picture of but was scared off by Getty’s copyright infringement notice…!)

The spiritual practice of observing the liturgical year, the church calendar, has allowed me to engage more fully with the essence of the story of God without adding to its complexity. Yet I encounter a range of responses when I talk about its value :

  • Fascination with its symbolism and unfamilar vocabulary
  • Curiosity, but with caution
  • Ambivalence within their own views
  • Perplexity over mine
  • Resistance
  • Disinterest. Period.

In my case, the ordered simplicity has helped me unwind a tangled accumulation of theological threads. As an Enneagram 4, notorious for our skills in creating chaos from clarity, it has been helpful in ordering my life around stated beliefs, something Barna’s research says we Christian types apparently aren’t so good at. On the other hand, Jesus was quite skilled at living with focus and great intention.

So…About Lent

Lent is not native to my formative Protestant tradition. Growing up, I heard it most often associated with Mardi Gras, the huge party filled with unspeakable iniquities  that served as its kickoff the night before. Therefore, Lent was implicated in the trangressions. Bummer. Because it’s much, much more.

In reality, Lent is the 40 days before Easter set aside for an honest look at our human condition, emphasizing our mortality and the need for repentance, or turning, from our selfish orientation toward God. It begins on Ash Wednesday, with a reminder that we will not live forever as the beings we now are, and that to experience our God-designed wholeness here and the best of life hereafter, we might consider looking to something outside of our mortal, finite selves; that we need–and have–a Savior. That’s the reason for the cross-shaped ashes drawn on the forehead. And yes, it feels weird and it gets in your hair and doesn’t always wash off easily–just keeping it real–in the way doing so keeps it real, which we don’t usually think of ’til someone we love dies in a rollover or loses a child.

Abstaining from sensory pleasures of some sort, prayerfully chosen, holds space for more focused reflection and an increased awareness of something more important than, say, the next episode of Blacklist–or whatever you’re currently binging on. Sorta like not texting at the dinner table so you can join the conversation…Archaic, I know.

While these are routinely practiced by those intentional about their life with God, setting aside time each calendar year, guarantees that we won’t get accidentally occupied and conveniently forget–a sort of spiritual Alzheimers. It means we participate with the community of Christian faith around the world, many traditions, at the same time. Engaging in such activity is an overwhelming prospect for some. Apparently that’s what all the partying is about–one last dance before the lights go out.

Living the God Story throughout the calendar year, reminds me that observing the life of Jesus creates clarity where I cloud most everything with complexity. It’s noteworthy that Easter follows closely with its promise of resurrection and new life. Now THAT’s what I’m talkin’ about.

Thank you, Sweet Jesus, for being so uncomplicated! I am in desperate need of such a Savior. And such a Savior You are.


BONUS:

Engage is available to download this year for a small donation to Renovare and is an accessible introduction to the lenten journey. Great for doing with a small group of friends.

Next time, an example of How Jesus Was Uncomplicated. 

12 Lessons from a Jigsaw Puzzle: Putting Together the Pieces of Spiritual Formation

Jigsaw puzzles often appear on our table during long January evenings. We’ve done several this year.  As we worked at the one pictured, I began to notice what the process has to teach you and I about spiritual practices that help us know and encounter God. Here are a few things to think about next time you reach for a puzzle. I know I won’t approach it again in quite the same way.

First this, though.

Q: If “it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phillipians 2:13), why engage in regular spiritual practices at all? Why our effort, if the work is God’s?

A: Because we get to be a part. Our part is to turn–repent is the religious word, to turn toward God and consent to the recreating, renewing work of the Spirit routinely taking place in us. And because it seems we humans are masters of resistance, it helps if we acquire some new habits to reduce the friction.

Quoting N.T. Wright, “Virtue is what happens when someone has made a thousand small choices requiring effort and concentration to do something which is good and right, but which doesn’t come naturally. And then, on the thousand and first time, when it really matters, they find that they do what’s required automatically. Virtue is what happens when wise and courageous choices become second nature.”
After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters

Since I’m talking about the forming God does in us, not what we accomplish ourselves, the one wise and courageous choice I hope will become my second nature is the turning. It’s the one choice that gives me the most trouble, yet holds the greatest promise; a promise of freedom and life for me, and of living and loving others authentically and well.

Dallas Willard says that training in turning involves VIM–vision, intention and means. It’s from his weighty text, Renovation of the Heart, but I’d skip that and go straight to Jan Johnson’s stellar study guide by the same title–unless you’re of tougher cerebral material than me–which you can also exercise with a jigsaw puzzle.

Consider these 12 lessons:

  1. Know your options. Once you open the box and dump the pieces on the table, turn them all over so you can see everything you have to work with. There is a long recorded history of the many ways people have been helped along in their life with God. Learn about those beyond your own tradition and experience. Find out what is available to you.
  2. Establish the framework. Assemble the border by finding and connecting all the edge pieces. My established framework defines the scope of my  own practices. a) God initiates my desire for him. b) My response is enabled by his grace. c) God does the heavy lifting. d) My practices are aligned with scripture and the revelation of God as seen in Jesus. e) God is good, loving and trustworthy, therefore I can have confidence in the process.
  3. Approach with intention. A system helps. Once the pieces are turned over and the border put together, work on objects, areas, then colors, then shapes. Resort to process of elimination if necessary. Random growth in love and freedom happens by God’s great grace. But there is a special kind of life that comes through being awake and engaged intentionally in the process.
  4. Keep the big picture in view. Put the boxtop where you can easily see the completed picture and refer to it often. To live and love as Jesus…that’s not a shabby picture to keep in mind.
  5. Stressing takes the fun out. Remember to breathe. What is intended to be a pleasant activity can turn to frustration when several minutes go by without finding a piece that fits. It’s good to be reminded that there are no gold stars for finishing first or best. We can become so intent on doing it fast, right, efficiently, etc. that the simple fun of partnering with the Puzzlemaker and a partner to create a thing of beauty is lost along the way. Speaking of…
  6. It’s MORE fun with a friend–mostly. Buddy up. It can be hard to persevere if you’re going it alone–even if your friend gets in the way, or hogs the boxtop, or beats you to the piece sometimes. Still, a task shared is worth a little inconvenience. It’s the paradox of community.
  7. Start small. Every puzzle goes together the same way–one piece at a time.“1000 pieces sure is a lot!,” we kept saying, a little overwhelmed by the size of the task we had taken on. That’s why the kids started with 25-piecers that their grandma bought them, graduating to 100, then 300. 500 is just right for a quick night of relaxed fun. Our first in this recent puzzlefest, though, was 750 before we graduated to 1000. (Not heroic, but it’s about capacity for now. ) There are myriad disciplines to choose from but start with just one or two that fit your lifestyle and season, and to which you feel drawn. It takes God very little to make a lot.
  8. Do what you can. Begin with something you can work at. While the majority of pieces seem to belong nowhere in particular at the beginning, there’s usually something that stands out.  Don’t be stubborn, insisting that the one piece you want to make work, simply doesn’t.  Someone may insist on a practice that is life-giving for them, maybe for many. But if it doesn’t make sense for you at this time, lay it down and pick it up again when you can see where it fits. Follow Dom. John Chapman’s counsel, “Pray as you can, not as you can’t.” But start.
  9. There are surprises along the way. Spending time working piece by piece, reveals much you might miss when you only look at the picture on the cover of the box. The latest surprise was a bird in the window when all we saw was the countryside house. There were 20 birds total and the euonymous bush in the corner was hiding a ladybug–Who knew?! Come with at attitude of openness. There is much to discover.
  10. If it’s not one thing, it’s another. Not all the surprises are pleasant. One of the puzzles we purchased had only partially-cut pieces and bizarre, ill-fitting shapes. The shades of color were quite different from those represented on the cover. It was unlike any we had attempted before, presenting difficult and unexpected challenges. We came very near putting it back in the box and giving up. The satisfaction when we finished, however, was that much sweeter. There is discomfort when we are presented with the opportunity to shed old, unloving ways of being. It means encountering parts of ourselves that may surprise us. We may want to stuff it back in the box and give up. Don’t. Anyone can start but only those who keep going know the joy of having persevered.
  11. Change your perspective. View the pieces from a different angle. When I hit a wall and was making no progress, I moved to a different side of the table. It opened up fresh possibilities and shook loose what seemed stuck.  I had new energy to continue as the pieces began coming together again. Find a spiritual director to help you see some part of your journey in another way; participate in a different tradition; meet new friends who share your faith but not your expression. These things can bring a new, rich perspective. Consider shifting your position at the table on occasion.
  12. Take a break. Know when it’s time to do something else…like sleep, or dinner. Stay mindful of time and your immediate reality. (So, like…it’s 1 a.m. before you realize it–not that it’s actually happened or anything… ) God has a timeline for you. Stay grounded and connected to the ordinary moments in life. Put aside a practice that isn’t serving you right now, that has lost it’s life-giving quality. Consider that it may be an invitation to explore some other way God wants to be with you. Move on. Relax. It will all get done when it needs to. Don’t obsess. God, Who began this good work in you, will complete it. Trust that. And rest. Maybe doing even do something non-religious–like a jigsaw puzzle.

BONUSES:

Greg McKeown explores the psychology and behavior of habits in Essentialism. “We have a choice. We can use our energies to set up a system that makes execution of goodness easy […ier, I would add] or we can resign ourselves to a system that actually makes it harder to do what is good. We can apply the same principles to the choices we face when designing systems in our own lives.” Great book; check it out.

Adele Calhoun explores a host of spiritual practices in her book Spiritual Disciplines Handbook. You may be surprised to discover that she lists things you are already doing. With a shift of intent they, too, can serve as spiritual disciplines. See it here.

~~Remember to support your local independent booksellers. In Yakima, it’s Inklings Bookshop. 

What “lesson” resonates with you? What other things have you learned from your experiences with various spiritual disciplines?

Breaking [a Perfectionist’s] Silence

There are several reasons why I’ve taken some time off but only one of them matters enough to mention:  my decided bent toward perfectionism.

Heraclitus with hand over mouth, worried look

Photo: From Heritage Malta

Perhaps “Anything worth doing is worth doing well” is one wisdom saying my overactive conscience Continue reading