Not your typical New Year: life evaluations in high summer

Do you know how much I love New Year? It’s only 205 days until it rolls around again. I know this because I have a countdown app on my phone. I love it for several reasons. First, I love a clean slate. Whether it’s a new day, week, month or year, they all hold the magic of possibility. I also love starting something new. Granted, my record of follow through isn’t spectacular, but I am slowly changing that this year. Finally, I love it because after what tends to be a month of festivity and busyness around here, followed by a week of intentional rest nestled between Christmas and New Year’s Day, it marks a return to routine. I love shaking things up, trying a new thing, when push comes to shove, but I rely on routine to ground and settle me.

By now you are no doubt asking yourself, why in the world is this crazy person writing about New Year in the middle of June. Well, first of all, it’s the middle of June! You do realize this means the year is almost half over, right? How crazy is this nonsense? But perhaps more relevant to my current line of thought are changes I am considering for the rest of this summer season. Since I have a few personal projects ongoing, making changes runs the risk of experiencing overwhelm. Honestly, I think this is why most new year’s resolutions fail. We take on a boatload of change without considering the effort required to maintain them. I know this is my problem, anyway.

However, one of the benefits of this little writing project is better clarity of my life values. Writing things down helps me know myself better. Sharing them publicly makes me feel a sense of accountability, whether or not anyone is really watching (probably not). Writing helps me see and understand my values; the public forum makes me examine whether my lifestyle aligns with my words. Both are important steps in whole-hearted living.

So in light of this mid-year evaluation, and the self-awareness writing has brought about, I feel compelled to make a few shifts. Perhaps you might call them resolutions, but I prefer to think of them as experiments. After all, until I try them, there is no way to know whether the benefits I imagine will actually come to pass. They look good on paper, anyway.

So I’m making plans and arrangements to determine if these shifts are feasible and practical for me right now. Even the best idea is doomed to failure if it’s implemented at the wrong time, like starting a diet at Christmas. I need to determine if I am just grabbing at random change due to my restlessness, or evolving current patterns which work for me but could be even better. Anything generated from restlessness is likely to fizzle out anyway, so better to conserve effort for those things which matter.

So that’s what I’ll be working on this weekend. No doubt, as these shifts settle into routine, I will be writing more about it. In a month, my one hundred days of writing is over, and I’m already making plans so that shift happens smoothly rather than my usual all or nothing approach. How about you? What’s going on for your weekend? Do you think Mid-year Experiments will be as popular as New Year Resolutions? Or am I just one of those weird introverts who loves any excuse to lose herself in introspection?

*Speaking of shifts. I shifted a chunk of my book talk over to goodreads. You can follow me here. Eventually, there will be links to take you from here to there, but that’s a project in the making, and not one under consideration this weekend.

New spiritual pathways: Breaking free from dogmatism part 2

Yesterday I shared about giving myself permission to explore new ways of exploring and understanding the world and my place in it. As I wrote, I felt both excitement and trepidation. This spiritual path I’m traveling is exciting. I’ve anxiously peered down the way for so long, afraid to move forward lest I get lost. I’m finally walking, making my way forward, slowly. I’ve found surprising and pleasing companions along the way. It’s an adventure for sure, but I also still feel rather fragile and vulnerable about this journey, so I’ve been keeping it close and safe.

One of the hardest things about traveling a new way is the condemnation received from those who aren’t traveling with you. I’ve traveled long in religious circles, and, let’s be honest, religious circles can be more condemning than most. I’ve felt the hard edge of condemnation. It hurts every time, maybe the effect is cumulative. Or maybe my co-dependency plays a part. Probably both. Either way, in giving myself permission to freely share the spiritual part of my journey, I open myself to criticism and condemnation yet again. After all, it’s only ok to think heretical thoughts if you keep them to yourself.

In almost sixty days of writing, I’ve managed to avoid writing almost anything spiritual. I’ve touched on it, circled around it’s edges. Mostly, I keep those observations and wonderings to myself, though. Two decades in ministry have taught me well that Jesus forgives, but systems seldom do.

I’m afraid. That’s the long and short of this post. I’m afraid to be honest, afraid of the repercussions, of rejection, of condemnation. But I know I can’t continue to dance around the edges of something which is so deeply part of who I am. I’m a spiritual being. Although I’ve asked at least ten thousand questions these last few years, not one of them has been whether God loves me still. When no one else makes room for all my wonderings and wanderings, she does. In fact, the farther down this path I travel, the bigger and more beautiful God becomes.

The evolution of my faith looks something like a set of Russian nesting dolls. I began in the smallest possible construct, and every few years, my spiritual understanding emerges into a new and larger form. The thing about Russian dolls is that although each gets a little bigger, on the outside they look identical. Imagine my surprise when I emerged from my last evolution and found an entirely new image looking back at me. The God I knew turned out to be a graven image, looking more like my own heart than the actual heart of God. In fact, this new revelation is far more beautiful, broad and all-embracing than anything I’d dared imagined. She’s far less equation and far more mystery than I’d been taught to be comfortable with.

But oh, it’s exciting, awakening in this wide open space. Every way I turn, new images of a living God unfold before me, each one exposing more and still more of the wild and furious heart of God. I can no longer continue sharing about this journey without sharing this part of myself as well.

So yes, I’m afraid, afraid and excited and uncertain and joyful. I’m learning a new way of living which is an entirely different sort of new than simply changing geographic location. The restlessness I cannot shake is my soul longing to sing, if not without fear, at least without disguise.

Here’s my soul exposed, open, vulnerable, happy, anticipating what’s next. This beautiful spiritual pathway unwinds before me, cleared and made welcoming by those who have traveled before.

Fifty days later: Thoughts from the middle of everything.

Fifty days ago, I decided I would write and publish a blog for one hundred days in a row. Today is day fifty-one which means it’s all closer to the end than the beginning from here. I’ve reached the middle at last. When I started this project, I hated everything (perhaps a bit of an exaggeration, but not much), and I could tell I was circling the drain of depression. The question I ask myself today is whether or not writing and sharing daily is really makes any difference.

The answer is yes. It is making a difference. I am different than I was fifty days ago. I’m emotionally healthier than I was fifty days ago.

Is it all due to the writing? Probably not. However, the writing has been a catalyst, a foundational habit on which other positive changes are laid.  I write daily. Since beginning to write, I also run and meditate daily. My reading is more focused; I finish what I started. After completing a journaling class, I write in my journal before blogging each day. I wrote the curriculum for and co-taught a community care class which opened the door for many brilliant conversations on self-care/ self-awareness, compassion and healing. I’m reworking step 4 (Inventory), and shared my own story of recovery with my recovery community.

Yes, these fifty days have been full with all of the pieces playing a vital part of my journey back to health. The spark, however, comes from this practice taking place on-screen every day.

The discipline of writing so many days in a row, forces me to plan intentional writing time. On the days when I have not, I’ve regretted the cobbled together silliness that gets published. The same response happens on the days I procrastinate too long and am trying to make coherent thoughts with my afternoon brain. Afternoon brain can do many things, but writing isn’t one of them.

I continue to learn more about myself every day. How toxic relationships have stolen my joy for far too long. How I can live within healthy boundaries instead of exposing myself to further harm. I’m inspired to be bold again, and honest, and kind. I often feel afraid, still, but I don’t let fear be the loudest voice in my head.

More than anything, writing opens up my desire to be creative again. I don’t know how long my creativity laid dormant. I only know I’d forgotten how good it feels to create something new in the world, even if no one but me knows of its existence. Writing ignited the spark and all the other creative endeavors are blowing life into it, convincing it to stay, to grow.

Even though our life circumstances haven’t changed, and the waiting continues to feel like drowning in molasses, I wait differently now. I am not without hope, not the powerless victim of whatever circumstance tries to throw my way. I can generate change, within and without. Writing has taught me this. Showing up, following through, embracing imperfection, muscles I’d forgotten to flex. Using them makes me feel strong again. Even on sad days, I don’t have the despair that was so heavy before.

And here you are, fifty days later. Patiently returning to read each day. You provide inspiration too. You remind me we aren’t alone in this big, old, chaotic world. I remember now that we are far more alike than different most of the time.

What will I do after the next fifty days? I’m not sure yet, but that doesn’t bother me. In time, all things will be revealed. Until then, I continue to do the work I know is good and healing. I don’t have to be afraid to stop doing things which aren’t beneficial, or to try something new, or recognize when a season changes. All things change. Even me.

Thank goodness.

How to wake up and find inspiration

Remember the journaling class I signed up for with my birthday money? Even though it’s only been four days, I’m having a great time learning, shifting my perspective and rediscovering inspiration. In fact, today’s lesson was to write about things which inspire and how to create more opportunities to experience those things. As I wrote, I realized I haven’t bothered with inspiration much recently. When you live in survival mode, there’s not much room for inspiration.

Survival mode isn’t always something we consciously choose. It certainly may be if we receive a terrible diagnosis or when a loved one faces a crisis. Birth and death and transitions can all be times when we focus simply on getting through the day intact. This is appropriate, but hopefully temporary. Sometimes, however, survival mode is crafty. It rises slowly around us if we’re mired in toxic relationships and unhealthy thought patterns, or when our environment suffocates rather than enriches us. Before we know it, we’re drowning. All we can do is keep our head above the water, sometimes not even that.

Perhaps we suffer from trauma. Forgetting there’s any other way to live, we keep our heads down. We strive to meet all the “shoulds” and exceed all the expectations.

I’ve been living this way, and failing miserably on all three accounts.

I don’t know what or why I began to wake up from this perspective. Although, I’m certain it began slowly.  Just as we can’t be certain what moment dark becomes dawn, we only know suddenly we can see again. At least, that’s what waking up to inspiration is for me. Maybe it was a series of unimportant choices each one leading to the next, like stepping stones back to myself. Perhaps, my spirit simply couldn’t sleep any longer. Awake at last, she nudged and prodded, slowly bringing me back to life.

If I had specific answers, I could write a 5-step program and be a millionaire.

I only know day-by-day, I find inspiration in the most unexpected places.  From a community of journalers, to a podcast, to conversation with a friend in recovery, every place I turn confirms the path I’m traveling is the one to life and light and beauty. It will eventually lead me home to myself.

I’m alert now, awake to promise and possibility. I’m searching and seeking, trying and failing, forgetting to care about what anyone else thinks.  When I journaled today I wrote about new experiences, exploring, learning, finding my voice again and using it. I wrote about reaching out and meeting new people. Traveling. Moving. Changing. Beginning again.

For most of us, it isn’t that inspiration is so hard to find, it’s that we are so focused on how to get through what’s next that we simply miss it. Most of us, just like me, don’t even know we’re living this way. I don’t know what inspires you to create.  I can only determine what inspires me. But I also hope, if you need a wake up call yourself, you might take a few minutes and think about, or write down the answers to a few questions:

  1. What inspires me?
  2. How can I develop opportunities for inspiration?
  3. How can I have more adventure?
  4. What do I want to do next?

    The crazy thing about this writing, reading, being vulnerable adventure I’m on is how much fun I’m having even when I’m afraid. Every day holds something new, even the hard days. I’ll hang on to this being awake feeling with everything I have. The time for sleeping is over. Inspiration is waiting to be discovered, here, there, everywhere I go.

Stepping Stones: How we recover ourselves


We need emotional vulnerability to grow. We are like crabs. We don’t grow where our bodies are hardened. The greatest loss is not that we experienced pain. The greatest loss is that we lost the connection to our essence. That’s our wound: the loss of connection to ourselves. When you recover, what do you recover? Yourself.
From Drink: The intimate relationship between women and alcohol by Ann Dowsett Johnson

Today I’ve written something every day for forty days. Not everything is worth going back to read again, but some of it has been very important. I see these days lately as stepping stones. Some time ago, I lost myself. There isn’t any one person or event solely responsible – is there ever? Where we go and who we become is inextricably tied to everything which came before, wonderful and terrible. No one is solely responsible for where we find ourselves except us.

Whatever the reason we wander away from the essence of ourselves, recovery means finding our way back again. It means sliding into this weary skin and finally feeling at home here. It’s uncovering our wounds and scars and maybe even letting others touch them, touch us, place their hands in the hole in our side.  

It doesn’t matter what happened to turn me back to myself, maybe just as in the wandering away, it was a maddening mixture of voices and influences. I only know that for awhile, I wasn’t sure which way to go – forward or back. Keep pushing ahead believing I could fix my way out of the mess, or trace my steps backward, until my soul at last caught up with the rest of me.  I hoped that by pushing ahead I might rediscover myself, bold and shining and perfect, somewhere up ahead. But recovery whispered, No. No child, you must go back and get her, the wounded one you’re running so far from.

And so it is. The shining bold and perfect me I envisioned was only a mirage. Too perfect to be anything but a brittle imposter, a pretty public face. I’d left my soul behind somewhere, lost in the wilderness of life.

She was waiting. Waiting for me to go back and find her. Waiting to be recovered, like a widow’s mite, the pearl of great price.

It’s not easy. This returning, recovering. The path has disappeared behind you. All the demons you ran so fast and so far from, they’re waiting. They don’t starve and waste away while you forge onward. Instead, they lurk. They linger. We have to vanquish them one by one, sometimes more than once, all the way back to ourselves.

There’s cliffs and canyons, detours and distractions. The way forward didn’t seem this difficult, perhaps this is why we didn’t return before. But there’s voices also, leading us, guiding us, reminding us of the soul who waits for us. And friends, if we’re lucky, friends who remember, who wait along the way, pointing, cheering, clearing the way for a while, bringing us closer to ourselves than we would be without them.

For me, there’s here. These stepping stone words and stories. Each one a stepping stone, pointing me, guiding me, leading me back to myself. I’d forgotten, forgotten her, forgotten how not to be afraid, forgotten how to be me without someone telling me what should define me.

I see her now, glimpses and whispers. She’s close, very close, dancing in the flickering afternoon light under the trees. Welcoming and brave, stronger for the breaking, wounded and lovely and so much wiser than I imagined she would be.

Almost there, now.
Almost home.

How to choose between restlessness and presence

We’re in a very in-between place in our lives right now.  Not quite finished with one thing, not quite certain what the next thing is. Me? I’m a plan girl. I like a list and dates with a destination. I can fit all kinds of flexibility and focus within those parameters, but I need parameters.  In-between is not my favorite place.

Most days, I can take my restlessness and tuck it obediently in the corner. I distract it with 100 books to read, or take it for a run.  We organize and binge listen to podcasts.  I tell my restlessness we’re making progress, and usually it’s tamed by these distractions.

Today I’m watching other people’s weather. I’m circling the house like a caged tiger, shooting anxious texts to the Hunky. (I know tigers don’t text, but my restlessness uses mixed metaphors.) I’ve spent the last hour telling myself to put my butt in a chair and write some words…any words…JUST SIT DOWN AND TYPE FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS.

restlessness

 

There are six countdown widgets on the front of my phone: my birthday, the next book club mailing, Christmas (237 days, folks), New Year, 100 days of writing, and Labor Day.  If my life is a bulletin board full of the one thousand sheets of paper which try to define me, then those countdowns are the push pins holding the pieces in place. When I’m not sure what to do, I look at my widgets, pick a point and try to move a little closer. It’s crazy, I know. But those countdowns mark parameters which guide the way I go.

Today even the widgets mock me. I pick books up and put them down. Then I clean the sink, just to say I’ve accomplished something, then I take another lap.
Do you ever feel like this?

There’s a thousand things which are fabulous about my life today, even the weather is insanely beautiful, after a stretch of wicked humidity hinting at high summer. I tell myself to settle, focus, lean into those things, and I do. I am.

Except I’m also dreaming of what could be and this high, blue sky only reminds me of how wide and far it stretches.
Maybe I’m an anticipation junkie. Something is out there. Something is calling me. Eventually it will make itself known, and I want to be ready, ready with wide open heart.  And yet, I want my wide open heart to also embrace what’s right here, happening in my home and town and my life. These days are good, worthy of my full attention. Meant to be lived not merely endured.

So what do we do when the caged tiger roams and every shiny thing looks better than the beautiful things we’re already holding? I wish I knew. I do. However, I’m learning quick fixes and easy answers aren’t really the way we live a meaningful life. Sometimes you have to climb on the tiger, leap the walls, and just let him go where he will a bit. Somedays we lean into the restless and trust that we don’t have to choose between what’s wonderful here or what’s possible tomorrow. Instead we choose to believe our arms are big enough to hold both at once, tigers and vacuums, the possible and the present,  what we have and what we don’t yet see.

Maybe we count down to what we know and watch for what we don’t and are grateful for someone to read our words, both texts and on-screen who says, Me too; let’s sit right here in this chair and watch the sky awhile.

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.