How to Love your Introvert: lessons in self-care

When I was talking with some friends the other day, I explained how life as an introvert is like spending from a change jar. Where a person is on the introvert scale determines how much change she can spend each day. I am extremely introverted, so my change jar spends quickly. When it’s gone; it’s gone along with my ability to process, tolerate spoken words, my manners, my patience and my desire to see another living human being. Introverts must spend time alone to refill the change jar, the more often the better. It’s been a wild week, however, following a busy weekend. Lots of expenses, not much replenishing.
I always assume, because introversion is so often the subject of books and articles, everyone understand the difference between shyness and introversion. Then I remember not everyone is a personality junkie like I am, and I probably assume too much.  The conversation about the change jar was actually part of a defense for the wide array of introverted personalities in the world. Honestly, I’m a loud introvert.  Not when I am in a new place with people I don’t know, but when I am among friends, feeling comfortable and safe, I’ll talk your ears off and not in my sotto voce.  What can I say? I really am a performer at heart, though I’d much rather play a part than be my authentic self.
Learning about, and finally accepting these things about my personality radically changes my ability to care for myself.  All the impatience and irritability I feel bristling underneath my skin isn’t something I can just “get over” as I’ve chided in the past. My body is trying to tell me something, Provide me with a quiet, safe place for a long period of time, please. Then we’ll be able to play nicely with the world at large again.  It helps in my home relationships as well. I can just tell my family, I need to introvert, and they understand it’s not them. Mom’s not in a bad mood, she just needs a time out.  And they kindly provide the space I need to be my best self.
I used to think, and I believe a large portion of American culture still thinks, that introversion is a handicap, a trait that needs reforming or overcoming.  As though I could just make myself enjoy being around lots of people, expectations, and noise. I should just force myself out there into the fray until I am comfortable in it. But introversion isn’t something which is likely to change, and I don’t want to anymore.  I like living in my head and pondering life deeply. I enjoy being alone, being quiet. Certainly, I can handle social situations; I just have to buffer them with quiet space before and after. It’s fine if you love your room full of lively people. Instead, I’ll be engaged in a meaningful one on one conversation in a quiet corner.  There’s room for all sorts in this world, even we quiet-ish types.
So you’ll forgive me if I keep it short and sweet today. I’m storing up for the last social thing I have to do until next Monday. I’ve scheduled an introvert weekend (with time to write) to refill the stores I’ve seriously depleted. Even when my life is wonderfully full, I still need to withdraw for awhile until the quiet works it’s magic within me.

My Moving Obsession: Thoughts on changes big and slow

I’ve talked about my obsession with moving before. I’m restless and ready for change. Sometimes the quickest way to change is your environment rather than the slower, less noticeable changes which happen internally. Fortunately, both have their place.
We’ve lived in four different houses in our time in Georgia, each one a little smaller than the one before. When we moved from Florida we packed for weeks, used the largest U-haul you can rent and still needed an extra truck and trailer. Even then, knowing what I know now, I think we owned less than the average American household.
We lived in our first house for two years side-by-side with boxes we never bothered to unpack. Crazy right?  Before we moved into our second house, we looked at a small house located on property our church owns.  It seemed like such a good idea, but the house…as we walked around it, all I could think was, our stuff will never fit. There’s nowhere for our stuff. Eventually, we moved elsewhere.
Moving a second time encouraged me to dispose of a few boxes we had never unpacked, but most of our stuff just moved right along with us.   While living in our second home, two things happened. First, although there was a large master bedroom on the bedroom end of the house, there was also a much smaller bedroom and bath on the opposite end away from the cluster of kid bedrooms. It was tiny but connected to a gorgeous sunroom and offered opposite-side-of-the-house privacy.
Oh yeah.
Then, I joined a thirty day writing challenge. I wrote about organization, because who doesn’t want to be more organized? I bought into the idea that organization was the answer to creating a more meaningful life. If I can make room for everything, I can have it all. True to my nature, I began reading books about organization and prioritization.  Randomly, I chose  The 100 Thing Challenge: How I Got Rid of Almost Everything, Remade My Life, and Regained My Soul by Dave Bruno (I’m a complete sucker for a numbered challenge…I mean, I’m writing this as part of the 100 days project, right?).  This began a pattern of exploration which drastically transformed, and still transforms my life.
I discovered the concept of minimalism.
If you’ve read, or spoken with, or been near me, or know someone who’s known me for more than five minutes, you know I beat the drums of minimalism loudly and often.  I love it for a million reasons. But mostly I love that the closer I lean into it, the better me I become. Minimalism is has opened the door for me to learn to release, to examine my motives, to explore new ways of thinking and being and living. There are other ways to become more yourself, for sure (I’m engaging in one of them for eighty-six more days). Minimalism is mine, and I find excellent company in it.
Moving and writing were the catalysts for huge changes in my life. Some happened quickly, like a van full of stuff to Goodwill, or two, or fifteen. Five years later and I dropped four boxes off today.  The real challenge of minimalism began once I worked past the surface: the closets, desk drawers and garage boxes. Then, I wasn’t just purging and prioritizing; I was engaging in some serious self examination.  I begin to ask myself, “Why do I keep this? Do I use it? Do I love it? Is something deeper going on here?” 
Now I entered the real work, the meaty good stuff. Occasionally it’s intense and I have to step away for awhile, but mostly it is completely, abundantly liberating, like being buried under rocks in a cave and suddenly finding the way out.
This whole journey of self-discovery and recovery is possible because five years ago I embraced a new way of life. I wanted cleaner closets and less maternal melt-down. I had no idea when I started where it would lead. Looking back, the whole experience justifies my belief that a simple thirty challenge just might change your life.  Sometimes change is quick, and sometimes slow, but usually, it jumbles hopelessly together.
Incidentally, that little house the church owns that I said we’d never fit into? Five adults and two dogs comfortably live in it now, and we’re only going smaller from here.

 

Showing Up: How I wrestled with Anxiety and won…this time

Today I started with good intentions. I got up when my alarm went off. I decided to hit the streets before writing, loaded up my podcasts and off I went.  While I walked, I considered what to write about when I got home. In fact, I planned my morning perfectly to ensure maximum productivity.

I walked in the door and BLAM! There she sat, waiting for me. She leaped on to my chest, wrapped her grimy little fingers around both my lungs and squeezed.  As her weight slowly settled, my mind began to whirl with all kinds of ridiculous and terrible scenarios.

Hello, anxiety. It’s been awhile, I said.

My adventure with anxiety began around the same time I started therapy. She’s one of the reasons I went to therapy actually. Learned helplessness taught me I’ll never do anything right, but anxiety likes to remind me of all the things which haven’t gone wrong yet, but will go wrong eventually. She’s considerate like that.

A year of therapy provided me with many tools to combat anxiety. I use them all: reframing, meditation, physical evidence (sorry about all those texts this morning, honey. I needed to know you are still breathing; the building hadn’t collapsed; you still love me; you will always love me; yes, even though I am completely insane.), exercising, journaling. If it’s a holistic treatment, you name it, I’ve done it.  Usually, when mixed with time, they work.

Today’s joy ride with anxiety is sponsored by trauma. See, I don’t always get in trouble when I share my thoughts or feelings or theology publicly, but it happens often enough, and occasionally painfully enough, that a weekend of vulnerable posts has left me with an anxiety hangover.

The obvious answer is just to take the day off, right? Ah but see, those are my old patterns. When life gets scary, hide. Go dark. Disappear. If no one notices, then you won’t get hurt.

If avoiding attention were a professional sport, I’d be independently wealthy by now.

But I don’t want to be this way anymore. Plus, there’s the whole 100-day project to consider. Basically, taking a day off isn’t an option. So I ran through my bag of anxiety tricks. I looked anxiety in the eye and said, I can’t make you leave, but I won’t let you stop me either. 

Then I said it again.
Then I watched an episode of Gilmore Girls.

But finally, I looked anxiety dead in the eye and I SHOWED UP ANYWAY.  (Incidentally, if you were wondering, anxiety looks what would happen if a sloth mated with a dragon, at least, that’s what mine looks like, all claws and scales, and sinewy arm strength…but with speed and agility).

I don’t hold on to any illusion that my life will be magically different at the end of these one hundred days.  After all, it’s been two years since I stopped hiding and started working on recovery instead, and today I was nearly waylaid by an imaginary slagon (droth?) with long hairy arms and a desire to crush my lungs.

But I know some days, you worry less about a polished product and more about simply showing up. You may arrive with disheveled hair and mismatched shoes, but by golly, YOU ARRIVE!

Here’s to good intentions and excellent tools, to Gilmore Girls and afternoon coffee. Here’s to fear and faith and showing up anyway.

This is recovery. Some days, all you can do is show up and cheer. Might as well invite you to cheer along with me.

Something Fun Sunday: Episode one

I think that success is having fun. – Bruno mars


Last week, I shared about my Sunday struggles
, and my plan to reframe how I feel by adding something fun each week.  I dubbed it “Something Fun Sunday.” This week, I made sure to take notice of books, events, songs, and moments so I could share them today.  I’m pleased to say, it worked! I was definitely more mindful of enjoyable moments. I anticipated their arrival and savored them longer, and then reflected on them more often in further anticipation of writing about it.  These are all keys to happiness. Without further ado, here’s Some fun things for Sunday
I’m an unashamed Marvel movies fan. No, I didn’t grow up reading the comic books, and I don’t know all the lore and back stories. I just know I enjoy a good completely imaginary action flick.  So when Craig showed me the new Thor: Ragarok trailer, I was thrilled! It’s not many movie trailers which make me laugh aloud, but this one does. “I know him! We’re friends from work!” I crack up every time. Watch it here.

Two books added to my enjoyment this week. While I tend more towards literary fiction and non-fiction, some weeks I want cozy chic-lit filled with tears and laughter and a guaranteed happy ending.  I want a great story about relationships and life and the crazy way its beautiful and terrible all at the same time. This week, I found it in Taylor Jenkins Reid’s One True Loves.  I don’t want to give anything away, but, friends, if you need a cozy good book this week, this is it.

On Thursday night, my book group gathered (more fun things!), and we ended up talking about an entirely different book. The Happiness Project is a long-time favorite.  In fact, I’m undertaking a happiness project of my own this year. I reread this book almost annually and was so excited it came up because it’s currently $1.99 on Kindle. I don’t know how much longer this deal will last, so if you decide to read it too, I wouldn’t wait too long to buy it. Incidentally, when I talk about how anticipating, experiencing and remembering an event increases happiness, that’s a concept I learned from Gretchen Rubin.

I’m a bit late to the bandwagon (aren’t I always?) We’ve had family premium on Spotify for about six months now, and the whole experience is wonderful. I’d forgotten how much I like music, and how entwined my mood and music can be. New music at my finger tips and the ability to make playlists for every mood?  YES, PLEASE!! EVERY DAY ALL DAY LONG!  A couple weeks ago I ran across this little gem, and I’ve probably listened to it sixty-eight times since then. So now I share it with you, enjoy!

The Box of Disorder: meeting God on the Slippery Slope

Yesterday I opened a box will take time to unpack, for me as well as anyone else along for the ride. I shared about Three Boxes: order>disorder>reorder, specifically the box of order. Today I’m ready to tackle the box of disorder, I think.  Let’s find out.

 

Almost everyone has opened the box of disorder. Some of us flirt with it many times in our lives, but never dare to climb inside. Some of us climb in and never leave, unfortunately. Disorder isn’t an easy place to live forever.  Most people who do climb inside react one of two ways: by returning to the order box because of fear, guilt or shame (it happened to me), or by embracing disorder, eventually emerging to enter the box of reorder (this is currently happening to me).

 

Usually we face the box of disorder because something catastrophic happens in our lives. Illness, loss, tragedy, or a drastic shift in life circumstances can send our idols of order crashing to the ground. We stop being certain of anything; we aren’t sure where to turn.  The box of disorder feels like a carnival fun-house with unlevel floors, distorted mirrors and hard-to-find exits.

 

I’ve spent the last few years deep in this box, attuned to terms used to describe the experience: dark night of the soul, back sliding, crisis of faith, falling upward, and my personal favorite, the slippery slope. None of them are particularly appealing, with good reason.  In the box of disorder we are likely to lose our identity, our certainty, some of our friends and possibly the support of our faith community. It’s a messy, bloody process.

 

Sometimes, the box of disorder starts with a simple question: is that really true? You may have heard this question before. The serpent used it on Eve in the Garden of Eden. Did God really say that? Is it really true?  The story ends with disastrous consequences, and humanity has avoided the question ever since. It’s easier to simply accept what we are told without question and cling to order in an attempt to avoid pain.

 

I don’t say this in condemnation, having done it myself.  Sometimes the answer to the question, is it really true, is too big, too terrible, too full of unknown consequences to face.  When this happens, we retreat to the box of order.  Possibly many, many times, we open the lid of disorder to discover we can’t face what’s inside. So we retreat, again and again and again, until one day, we simply can’t accept the easy answers any more.

 

I believe my descent down the slippery slope began just this way, with one question that created a crack in my order box. I ignored the crack for a long time. But like a scab we can’t stop picking, I never left it entirely alone. Eventually more cracks appeared.  They became harder to hide. My box was splintering, drawing attention.  Like Adam and Eve in the garden, the consequences for my defection were swift and terrible. When the dust settled, I mended the box of order as best I could, climbing back inside as deeply as I could. I stayed there for many years, uncomfortable and unable to forget my questions, but terrified of what was in the next box..

 

Eventually, a series of difficult events created too much tension and discomfort to remain. Glue and duct tape, even my prayers and fears couldn’t hold the box together anymore.

I shattered.

 

I couldn’t stop asking the question, is it really true, of every belief, rule, relationship, person and experience I knew.  This is disorder.

 

But let’s go back to Adam and Eve a moment.  Yes, when faced with the question, ‘is this really true‘, they encountered disastrous consequences. However, the more I reflect on this story, the more I realize something very important. Ejection from the Garden of Eden is the best thing for Adam and Eve, and for all of humanity. Stay with me. How often, both in scripture and in other wisdom literature, in nature itself, do we see created things become stronger, better versions of themselves as a result of distress?  We see it in diamonds, gold, marble, trees, flowers even our very own bones?

 

The more I experience life and God, the more convinced I am the Garden, like the box of order, is a beautiful beginning, but not a place we are meant to stay. If we want to become more like God, we need His Spirit within us, which isn’t possible in the Garden. We know and love God best when we also experience that which is not God. Inside the Garden, there is no choice for us to make.

 

Disorder does not reduce. It refines. We become more wholly ourselves when we experience doubt, disorder and yes, brokenness.

 

If we believe, which I do, that Jesus isn’t Plan B, hastily initiated because of our screw-up, then it is true that our salvation, enacted because of the Fall, was always the best possible way for us to become God-like. We didn’t accidentally fall, we were created to fall.  In falling we are finally swept up into the exhilarating, awesome, unfathomable grace of God.

 

Unless we leave the Garden, the box of order, there are ways and faces of God He cannot reveal to us. And He wants to; He’s literally dying to because He wants to be known.  His love is so enormous, so all-encompassing that He desires to unfold and unfold and unfold again each and every time we ask, is this really true?  But we must find the courage to ask. When at last we do, He pulls down all the false and comforting constructs we only thought were true one by one.

 

So we slide down the slippery slope tail-over-tea-kettle, meeting God at every tumble, looking right and left and seeing him tumbling beside us all the while, and when we finally reach the bottom, if we ever actually do, we also find him waiting there to catch us in His wide open arms and ask why we waited so long to fall.

 

The box of disorder is the scariest, loneliest, hardest, most beautiful, most miraculous, most invigorating place I’ve ever existed. Like Adam and Eve, I can’t go back to the Garden where order reigns. The way is closed, not as punishment, but as blessing. The wide world lies open before me, and God Himself inhabits every inch of it, even me.

 

Is it really true?  Yes, but not at all the way we thought it was. Life, faith, love, God, meaning, death, loss, grief, pain, all are so much bigger and more beautiful than we ever dared dream when we lived in the Garden.

Why order is necessary: Breaking down the three boxes

I sat down at my keyboard today and wondered, Is it ok to write about writing? Do people want to read that? Which is a silly question because I have five readers, and obviously you are the five I can’t chase away no matter what I write about. We’re stuck together for life, and I’m very ok with it. But then I considered the layers beneath that seemingly innocent duo of questions and peeked at a familiar theme. What is expected of me? Am I upholding those expectations? That’s the voice of codependency and trauma. What are the rules and how do I follow them perfectly? Those questions tell me instead of writing about writing, it’s time to break down some boxes, starting with order.

I learned about the concept of three boxes from Richard Rohr, a formative voice for me over the last several years. He breaks the universal faith journey into three boxes: order > disorder > reorder.

In the interest of brevity–and because you can read more at the linked article–let’s call the first box the box of immaturity. It holds the foundational tenets which we are taught from the moment we draw breath. Whether or not we are talking about church or religion, we begin with certain rules, ways of explaining how the world works. This is a good thing. In fact, it’s a necessary process enabling us to grow in an emotionally stable environment. One of our most basic needs is security. Foundational rules keep us safe and provide order: the stove is hot; the street is not safe; God loves us; the sun will rise every morning.

These rules create order and provide the framework for reality. Without them, the world is a Salvadore Dali painting, skewed, unstable and unpredictable.

All of us rely on rules daily. But most of us don’t follow them blindly once we gain maturity. For instance, the rule we used to follow about going into the street. It is true streets can be dangerous. But when I take my morning run, I frequently run in the street if the sidewalk is bad because all streets are not dangerous all the time for all people. The principle is true even if the practice isn’t always true.

When I run in the street, I leave the box of order and venture into disorder (the time I went in the street and was nearly wiped out) and eventually reorder (carefully assessing traffic patterns before assuming street safety).

Religion can be a very first box oriented endeavor. We make rules because we want to know and understand God, which is good. A god who is too big or too mysterious to understand is a force of power with which we can never connect. Knowing and understanding are key to a relationship, therefore God makes Himself knowable and comprehensible because He desires relationship. However, there are parts of His being which are not immediately knowable and even those which are essentially unknowable due to the limits of human understanding.

We use these revealed truths as cornerstones on which we build our theology. God is good. God created the universe. Jesus is real. Jesus died to restore humanity. We can be like God, and He desires this for us. He helps form us in His image. These beliefs matter. They create order in our chaotic reality.

The problem is sometimes we see the rules as immovable constructs for all time rather than starting point for a long conversation. Yes, the stove is hot and may burn us. However, the stove also allows us to create an endless variety of food, which may lead to conversation, laughter, togetherness and community. What is true about the stove is not ALL that is true about the stove. It’s a starting point, but there is more to the conversation.

The same is true of our religious beliefs:

God created the universe, but the is more to the conversation.
Jesus died to restore us, but there is more to the conversation.
We can be like God, but there so much more to the conversation.

And honestly, sometimes the more to the conversation is scary. Sometimes, the stove burns your house down; the street proves deadly. Sometimes theology goes horribly, maniacally wrong.

At this point we face a sort of crisis, is it easier to continue the conversation, or do we revert to the basic tenets and never deviate? Do we conform to the rules and reject anyone who does not or cannot conform to them, calling them a heretic and casting them away from us for our own safety? Do we even dare question if the original rule might not be a true rule to begin with?

Now we’re in uncharted territory. It’s not safe, not secure, not popular, and definitely not easy. Which is why so many of us never leave the safety of the rules. If a thing is always true, we always know what to expect. We always know the outcome. We never have to worry about consequences. So we live this way for years. Some of us live this way forever. It isn’t inherently wrong to live our entire lives in the box of order, but it’s an extremely exclusive way to live. If a set of rules is true, then every other set of rules must be wrong. There can be only one set of true rules.

The box of order is safe, but it breeds superiority, contempt and disassociation. At its extreme it is completely anti-community. There can only be us and them, and we are always completely right.

Order is necessary, but there is more to the conversation.

**I didn’t start this as a series, but it has rapidly become one. Stay tuned for further installments.

Introvert Cookies: how I defy cultural norms

Each week when we meet together for Celebrate Recovery, we have snacks.  It’s a well-known law in the south that wherever two or more are gathered in His name there will be a covered dish. Now, I’m not opposed to snacks in the least, but I gave myself permission to defy cultural norms and not take food every place I go. Therefore, I don’t snack socially anymore (the basic, don’t eat if you didn’t contribute principle – my own rule, not anything imposed upon me). It reduces my stress level and my waistline. Win-win.  But Monday evening, my friend was concerned about the quality of her cookie contribution. I sacrificed my principles and taste tested a cookie, strictly for quality control.

It was delicious. Amazing. Soft, crumbly, buttery shortbread cookie topped with melted caramel and chocolate, which then cooled into a sort of shell. If someone made a homemade twix bar, it would taste like this cookie, only this cookie makes twix blush with shame. I know this because after the first cookie I ate two more. I am the sort of friend who will sacrifice deeply in this way.

There was, however, one slight drawback to the cookies. The caramel, as it hardened, became very, very chewy. And as my friend does not stint on ooey-gooey toppings, it wasn’t a thin layer. The result was an amazingly, delicious cookie which rendered the eater entirely unable to communicate during the consumption process, or for a few minutes afterwards. Worth it.

While most CR guests are in small group, two or three of us set out the snacks in a separate room. This is where the quality control occurs, and it is where two of us succumbed to shortbread cookie ecstasy and silence for several minutes. What’s funny about this is both of us handling the set up are highly introverted. Together, we share our introvert struggles, anxieties, and what we like about our personalities, even when they make it difficult to fit in. We are also quite comfortable to be together quietly for large chunks of time, as introverts do. On Monday nights, these quiet setting up moments are sandwiched between two periods of high social interaction for us, This little bit of quiet space is always welcome.

So here we are, alone in a big room, chewing cookies. And chewing cookies. More chewing. And still more chewing, delicious buttery, caramel-y cookies.

It went on for a bit.

And then, we got the giggles. We attempted conversation, but we just couldn’t do it. We could not talk and consume this cookie at the same time. Instead we immersed ourselves in cookie-chewing until the experience ended. After we laughed and giggled…and ate another cookie…we decided to call them Introvert Cookies. If handed out to a room full of people, these cookies would halt conversation for a very long time. Which of course got us giggling even more. We had to eat another cookie to prove our hypothesis.

Sure enough, delicious silence. Just like I like it.

It’s interesting to me, as I look back, not just on this silly moment, but over the last year, how much more at ease I am with myself. My decision to eat before leaving home so I don’t have to take a covered dish somewhere, or my contentment with sitting quietly in a room even with other people around, or a hundred other quirks and oddities which make up the essence of me have long been a point of internal contention. One day I finally realized I don’t have to conform to popular culture. I don’t have to buy certain things, or eat certain ways, or be on certain bandwagons just to fit in.

I can do these things, and sometimes I do. But when I do, it is without pressure or resentment. Giving myself permission to be who I am has freed me to do everything more wholeheartedly.

It helps when we realize, we all exist in imaginary cultural boxes. Christians think this. Teen-agers do that. Poor people are this way. The world works that way.

Except it isn’t true, not all the time, or for every person. Boxes are neater, sure. And whole lot easier. We all experience tremendous pressure to conform to box where we mostly identify. But what would it look like if we didn’t? I don’t have the answer, but exploring the possibility has led me on a very healing and exciting journey.

If you like, we can share an introvert cookie and think about it.

Liturgy for an Anxious Heart

I’m mentally composing a blog about how liturgy has been an anchor for my faith. But today I am emotional soup for a thousand different reasons. My heart is anxious, and I’m emotionally dry. So instead of writing about liturgy, I’m writing actual prayers instead.  So, I give you, liturgy for an anxious heart.

Lord of peace and mercy,
We ask for peace which passes understanding,
For paths beside still waters,
For the restoration of the soul which only you provide.
We ask for eyes to see your goodness and mercy following us
All the days of our lives.

Abba, give us peace to be still,
Wisdom to disregard the propaganda and the rumors of war,
Grace and joy overflowing to share
Through the halls of our workplaces and the rooms of our homes.

Sustainer of creation, you are the one who brings hope
Who turns our stony heart to living flesh.
May we not turn from the refugee, the suffering, the poor, the undesirable.
Replace our eyes with your vision for justice
that we may see in your beloved children
The image of the divine
In the unlovely,
The discarded and unwanted
In the enemy who threatens us with harm.

If we walk the valley of the shadow of death
in the name of your love
Help us not be afraid
But walk gently onward ever closer to your heart.

Lord may we not look to a future in your heavenly kingdom,
But live in it, today, where we are.
Let us bring heaven to earth.
May we be conduits of heavenly justice and restoration,
Giving birth to divine love every place our feet fall,
May hope spring up from the ground beneath us, the rocks cry out,
The trees clap their hands in recognition of the Living God within us.

May our focus on the eternal not be for our reward after death,
But in our present circumstances.
As kingdom breathers and kingdom bringers
Let goodness and mercy dwell with us and in us
May they pour from our wounds as your blood poured out also.
Let justice roll like a river over every person we encounter.
May we be called ridiculous, scandalous, rebellious
As we seek to open the kingdom to all who those who have lost sight of mercy.
May we tear the curtains of this world, opening wide the most holy spaces.

For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Amen

Mindfulness: learning to embrace boredom

More and more over the last five years, I’ve stayed aware of the church calendar. As much as I have shared about change recently, I also deeply love rhythms and patterns. I’m drawn to them even more when everything around me feels so unsettled. They remind me of mindfulness. In the church calendar Easter will always follow Lent, which follows Epiphany, which follows Advent, which follows…year after year, an unchanging journey with the life of Jesus. For all of the struggle I have with church, I am enamored of Jesus. Following the church calendar keeps my eyes on Him and following Him keeps me grounded in loving God and neighbor.

This year for Lent, I gave up mindlessness. Yes, it is a broad category. In February, I felt overwhelmed and purposeless. I was drifting without much direction and avoiding any self-searching with news, social media and “advice from experts.” I relied on others to tell me what was critical and important, how I should feel about every single situation. Since everyone has an agenda with their own crtically urgent items, I was drowning in a sea of voices.

Whenever this happens, it’s time to reign in the information flow and create space for my self. Mindfulness never happens unintentionally. To become more self aware, I must clear the stage for my soul’s more mundane voice. Generally this means turning off screens, or going outside, or occasionally staring out the window at nothing for chunks of time. When it looks like I am doing the least, my soul is probably doing its deep work. But like everyone else, at the first sign of boredom, I tend to grab a screen and find some information to take in rather let my soul surface.

I drift towards scattered and unfocused behavior when I am in the grip of mindless living, starting too many books which I never finish. I grab this shiny idea and that shiny concept, but can’t decide what to do once I snag them. When everything is marked as urgent, I am paralyzed by choices. Busyness is my god, and it requires incessant feeding with frivolous and unimportant matter. I seem very productive during these times, but I’m merely spinning my wheels, going nowhere. Remember when I said I was the queen of the grand gesture? That tendency goes hand in hand with worshiping the productivity gods. “Look at this great, big change I made in just a few hours! I clearly have it all together! See me work so hard!!

Mindfulness is slower with infinitely less braggadocio. On mindful days, the most grand gesture I make is to show up, no fanfare or flourish, just a gentle immersion as entering a pool of deep water. Being mindful requires focus and reflection. For me, it also requires frequent use of timers. I settle to a task for a certain period of time, and once the time is set, I can focus solely on the task at hand. I have permission to immerse without the monkey brain constantly asking, but what about this issue? But what about that problem? What if we forget to do this very important thing? The timer takes care of it all until I finish the task at hand. My notebook makes a handy companion, as well. Once words are on paper, they can stop twirling incessantly through my head.

Mindfulness forces me to stop engaging escapism, my biggest battle with online time. The internet is here to stay, and in many ways, it’s highly beneficial. It also creates a doorway for me to check out. I scroll away the hours waiting for someone to entertain me rather than dealing with the things my soul keeps bringing to my attention. I repress and distract. And oh, I love the gold stars when someone compliments my wit, my intelligence, my insight. A good ego stroke is only as far away as my next witty tweet.

These are the things my soul shares with me when I finally let her take the stage. They are neither pretty nor flattering, but they are true. They are true and conquerable, but only when I’m paying attention.

As Easter, the official close of Lent draws near, I’m even more reflective. Have I succeeded in my lenten fast? What are the results of my journey? How has it affected me? These are complex questions with layers and layers of response. I am succeeding, though perhaps not in a measurable way. I’m more self-aware and less anxious. I am also more open-minded and less embittered, and most importantly, less likely to avoid dealing with bitterness when it arises. It’s too early to talk about results, and perhaps results aren’t even the point. The process is well begun with a lifetime of improvement ahead. We’ll let the results wait for the judgement; they aren’t mine to judge anyway.

I will continue to unpack how this affects me in the weeks to come. I am changed and aware of the process. For today, this is enough.

Everything changes, all the time: Words for when you feel stuck

It’s the Monday after Spring Break which means my girls slothed around as much as possible yesterday, playing webkinz on their laptops and grumping about lost freedom. Of course, they’re all taking college classes now, despite the recently rediscovered online world of webkinz, so from yesterday to today, my life changes very little.


It’s an odd sort of year. Last year, I began feeling the push, for the first time in a long career of educating other living beings, to wrap up homeschooling.  I wanted to prepare for a new chapter with new challenges. I wasn’t tired of being with my girls, but I was tired of telling them what to learn and how to learn it. All of us were ready for some new voices in our lives.


I didn’t feel disappointed when this happened, a bit nostalgic maybe, but also aware this was the right time to prepare for ending a chapter and beginning a new one. My oldest daughter was graduating and the younger ones following in the next year or two.  I was ready. What I wasn’t quite as ready for was the sudden decision to start all three in college classes immediately. My eldest was right on track, and we decided to take advantage of a state funded dual – enrollment plan at the same school. Free-college education? Yes please, sign us up today!


This sudden shift in life direction, as well as other changes on the event horizon, has me at loose ends. I’ve read an absolutely ridiculous number of books, made multiple impromptu trips to Nashville, rebelled against the concept of dinner, applied for several jobs, experienced rejection over several jobs and daily restrain myself from packing everything I own in a box as an attempt to speed up these season changing moments.


I’m not sad about the changes, but I do feel stalled out by them.
Waiting is difficult, and I am not particularly good at it.


I’m always drawn to the big gesture. I like to rearrange furniture, paint walls and mow the lawn, all activities causing immediate, drastic visual change. Long-term, slow-process projects seem boring in contrast. I soon fizzle out, constantly looking for the next, new thing.  Obviously, perseverance isn’t one of my virtues, but making a big entrance surely is.


In response, I’m making lists. I have several notebooks and a bullet journal which help me visually chart slow, gradual shifts in my life. Even though I feel stuck, these marks on paper reassure me that everything changes all the time. Sometimes I just have to find more creative ways to see it.


There’s nothing wrong with a road trip or a new house. There’s also nothing wrong with noting the slow inner changes which don’t invite much applause, or even much notice. It is spring after all, a time when sudden raucous change slowly subsides into a gradual deepening and maturing meant to carry living things through the blazing, long summer.


Everything changes all the time, whether or not we notice.
Even me.