The God Who Sees the Heart of a Parent

Exhausted mom.jpg

I love this time of year. Stores are stocked with backpacks and Facebook is plastered with first-day photos. There’s a newness in the air, full of new starts and hope. This will be the year she makes new friends. This is the year he will get a teacher who believes in him. The hope of a parent is as fierce as a storm, and it will outweigh any desire a mom or dad will ever have for themselves.

 

While not a parent myself, I certainly have a special place in my heart for those Moms and Dads I know, faithfully navigating each careful step, each cautious word, weighing it, sizing it, picking their battles prudently. Choosing. Wondering. Regretting. Shaming. Rising. Confessing. Battling. Knowing and never knowing for certain how each moment of their day went.

 

I often pray for the parents I know whom I call friends. They are gutsy in ways I’ve never had to be. I think I’m fairly good at multi-tasking but I’ve never had to multi-task matters of the heart like needing to choose to be at one child’s first recital versus another child’s first soccer game. I think I’d cave like Meryl Streep in Sophie’s Choice. I am in awe of the parents I know and I believe God is too.

 

The story of Hagar in the book of Genesis has always struck a deep cord in me. Here’s Hagar, a young slave girl who, by no choice of her own, became the means to an end for Abraham and Sarah’s desire to have a child and see God’s promise come into fruition. However, Sarah comes to so bitterly resent Hagar that she casts her out to the desert to die alone. It is then that the angel of the Lord sees her and instructs her. Upon this encounter, it is said that Hagar gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me, for she said, ‘I have now seen the One who sees me.’”

 

I sometimes wonder about all of those astounding moments that God sees the true heart of a parent – all those moments in the desert when shame screams and Evil accuses and there is no way of knowing if you handled the situation right. After all, there is a child inside that Mom or Dad, desperately doing all they can and sometimes simply caves in exhaustion.

 

If you are a parent, know that God sees you. He sees and knows your limited wisdom, knowledge and credentials when it comes to parenting. Let Him parent you and fill the gaps where you are beyond uncertain. Allow Him to attune His gaze to you and linger long enough for you to respond, like Hagar: “I have now seen the One who sees me.”

 

Are you aware of a God who applauds you as a parent? Take time for yourself and join others as we offer “From Surviving to Thriving: A Parenting Workshop” on Friday, September 29. To register, click HERE

The Pathway to Kindness

The Pathway to Kindness

“…You don’t answer to a wide swath of people and their opinions, even if they’re good people, with good opinions.  You were made by hand with great love by the God of the universe, and he planted deep inside of you a set of loves and dreams and idiosyncrasies, and you can ignore them as long as you want, but they will at some point start yelling. Worse than that, if you ignore them long enough, they will go silent, and that’s a real tragedy.”

These sentences in Shauna Niequist’s book, Present Over Perfect, hit me hard. I’ve known, deep in my heart, for decades, that the only One I answer to is the God who created me, knows me and has only the best for me. So, why does my time constantly get filled up with the wide swath of others? 

I was reminded recently of a time when I was introduced to an experience where solitude with God produced an awareness of God’s delight in me like nothing else. I had just finished my sophomore year in college and decided to spend the summer working at a camp called Spring Hill in Michigan. Our Director, Mark, would lead the twelve of us, his leadership team, on a solitude hike, each of us having only a blanket, bug spray and our Bible in hand.

With only the sound of our feet on the ground beneath us, he would stop and point to a tree, long off the path, to the next person in line. This would be their designated solitude spot for the next three hours, when we were “picked up” by the same hiking line in which we entered. It was risky, as a director, to go to such lengths to serve up such a solitude “table” for us, but I am forever grateful he did.    

This was in the late 80’s – long before solitude retreats, mindfulness apps, life maps or any of the sophisticated, organized retreats I’ve attended in recent years. I even recall bringing a canteen since bottled water had not yet been marketed. It was a complete “unplug” with a blanket as my only luxury.

But, what happened in those three hours long stays in my memory. The first 40 minutes or so, as Mark predicted, I slept. And his kind instructions, prior to our hike, not only gave me permission to sleep, but challenged me to relish in the much-needed nap. “This is your time to be a child of the great Father who loves you and knows your limitations. Cooperate with him and enjoy the sleep,” he would say.

Brushing off my sleepy eyes, I looked around at the beauty of my surroundings: the expansive trees and their long shadows shading me; the distinct sound of the distant blue jay; the tall pines swaying slowly against the sky. I felt small but deeply important, knowing I was not there by accident and definitely not alone.

Over the course of the hours that passed, the quiet served as a platform for whatever God wished to bring my way. Sometimes it was very little – a faint whisper of “Don’t forget… I’m crazy about you, Natalie.” Other times it was a more distinct impression of a tough relationship or what I hoped the end of the summer might bring. One time I did a handstand against the tree, remembering how I loved to see the world upside down when I was much younger.

Over the years, I took those same principles from Spring Hill and carried them into an annual practice. Being alone with God freed me from the numerous “shoulds” shouting in my head. I was free to be a child, without answers and without anything to prove. I’d imagine and create, dream and pour out my heart in tears. At the end of my time with God, I recall being somewhat sad, not that my time with Him ended, but it shifted back into a reality that was harder for me to concentrate on His presence.

“Be kind to yourself.” A couple months ago, I had put the written calligraphy card on my bookshelf to remind myself that sometimes the voice inside my own head is the worst enemy of all. Carving out time for myself to be with God is the pathway to kindness.

Do you know your path to kindness?  Do you know the desires of your heart and what brings delight to your soul?  

You are worthy of the journey to uncover it. 

 

 

 

 

Turning Toward

Turning Toward

          “Did you write today?” I asked half heartedly. “Yes, did you?” Kevin asked expectantly.  We sat together for the first time in over a week.  Just the two of us.  Every time I sit in this chair by the window, my heart exhales.  I love the way the chairs are turned toward one another which is the posture my heart most longs for.  I want to see his face, to know his heart.  I want him to listen to me.  To really listen, tuning out all of the other pressures and distractions that vie for his attention.  Today as I sit with so much swirling inside of me, my heart trembles.  It feels guarded and scared.  He is busy and distracted, he’s physically there but not really. Busy feels dangerous to me.  I remember wanting so much more than I could ever get from my mom when I was small.  She was busy. Though I know I am a priority to Kevin, that scared and broken part of my heart can’t tell the difference.  His busy season triggers my deep wound and I get swirled up in the strong emotion and move into fight/flight/freeze.  Though I want to run away and refuse him access to my tender heart, I choose to stay.  With consistent practice, I am learning to keep showing up and turning toward him even when its hard. 

            Kevin and I have been writing together with some consistency for about 5 months.  It has been some of the most holy work we have engaged together in our entire marriage.  Something happens when you open up a blank page and just pour out the contents of your heart.  Sometimes it is an awful rant that would be better left unshared.  Often it contains truth that exposes and disrupts.  Sometimes it is a beautiful prayer and a celebration of all that is right in our world.  You never know what is going to come up when you open up and write without reservation.  That’s the way I write, but it takes practice.  I have been doing these daily dumps for over ten years and it has changed my life.  I like to think of it as taking out the trash.  Emptying so that the light can fill and flow freely through me.  Sharing it with someone you love is another story.  It takes tremendous courage.  Vulnerability is scary as hell, but I am committed to it.  What’s the alternative?  Living a big lie?  Covering it all up until you implode or explode or get sick because all the tension you hold?  I prefer to shine the light of awareness and to find language and connection in the midst of the storms of life.  If we wait to share our hearts til everything is packaged neatly with a big bow around it, it will never happen.  The time is now!

            The fact that we can sit turned toward one another and tell the truth about what is going on inside of us is such a testimony to God’s goodness and grace.  I remember years of both of us being completely distracted and numbed out and cut off from the longings and whispers of our hearts.  We were deadened in a way and going through the motions; doing life side by side or even back to back in opposition when things got bad. It was all we knew.  We were survivors and just struggling to make it through the day.  Over the past 15 years I have been on a spiritual journey and it has been some of the most challenging work I have known and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  Healing and restoring the wounded heart is the only way to live the life we are called to live.  As my heart started to heal, I began to realize that my needs and desires were not a burden but a good thing.  My desire felt scary, but I had good friends around me affirming me and encouraging me to acknowledge and ask for what I needed.  Every time I turned toward Kevin with a need, I felt weak and needy.  His response vacillated from withdrawal to anger and very rarely did it seem like he heard me, understood, or had any ability to move toward my desire.  This only reinforced the lie that I am “too much.”  My need triggering his shame.  His anger, triggering mine.  So we dance, round and round in circles, stepping on toes and getting nowhere.  In every moment we have the power to choose.  What we do with our disappointment, pain, and desire really matters. 

            We continue to practice extending grace, asking for forgiveness, speaking the truth in love and turning toward one another, even when it hurts.  The writing has helped establish pathways of trust and a growing intimacy which is what every heart needs and longs for.  David Augsburger wrote “Being listened to is so close to being loved, we can seldom tell the difference.” Even if Kevin’s head is full and his heart is spent from the day, it really means the world to me that he would take the time to write with the hopes of connection.  We are each works in progress and we get it wrong more often than we get it right, but when we write and share we are truly writing our relationship well.  This is a sacred gift that the whole world needs.  I challenge you to start with yourself.  Make yourself a priority.  Open a notebook and write for three pages without stopping, judging, editing or even thinking about what you wrote.  Simply write!  Allow your heart to speak and notice how liberating it feels.  If you try this and want to begin to impact other around you, choose one person who you want to focus your love on.  It could be a relationship that feels stuck, or even dead, like our marriage felt long ago.  You can write about what hurts and what you really want.  Try to find language for what is stored up in your heart.  It might hurt, but I promise you, it will lead to healing, growth and better connection.  Simply begin…

           

The Intersection

The Intersection

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger; Beauty from ashes – You’ve heard all the clichés. Throughout my life, I’ve always had a sense that there’s more and that these clichés are actually true. I am the person I am today because of the circumstances of my life, right?

While I believe this is true, I’m now convinced there’s more. There are more than just ashes supernaturally making my difficult circumstances beautiful. This is both good news and problematic. Good news because it says my pain is worth something – that there is a purpose that is good. Problematic because it requires something of me, something that is difficult and brave and deeply uncomfortable. ”I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us,” says Paul in Romans 8:18. The operative word here is in us. Glory is revealed in me? Yes, but only when I compare it to my present sufferings – which requires me to look at them—and a hard look at them with Jesus at my side, nudging me with the hope that glorious purpose can be birthed.

This means that when I feel the unease of God’s hand gently pressing something specific on me, I embrace it and linger in it, holding it in my hands delicately, like a newborn. It requires me to turn away from distractions – a glass of wine, another humorous video or simply scroll my Facebook newsfeed again. I will do anything to distract myself from the twinge of uneasiness.

Jesus’ own life was a beautiful, and tragic, mix of purpose and pain. He’s described as a man well acquainted with grief, perhaps because He was crystal-clear in his purpose, right to the cross. Unlike Him, we deeply desire purpose but often want it without the pain. We want to be the passionate, strong leader our church teaches us to be, but often we want to go unscathed in the process.

My own sense of purpose is somewhat vague to me during this present season. I wrestle to unearth that which I sense God drawing me to look at, deeply held beliefs due to scars in my past, as well as patterns of relating that I keep clutched. I cooperate, slowly letting go like a child releasing a blanket of security, trusting God will someday bring purpose to all the difficult grappling.

In the words of speaker, writer and thought-leader, Dan Allender, to have purpose “…one needs to have walked where few choose to tread – the valley of the shadow of death.” The irony of this is that it is actually good news. In a sense God’s only requirement for us to have purpose is to look inward, with Him, at the truth of our trauma and brokenness. Only then, after being refined, will our profound purpose be revealed. Beauty from ashes? Oh yes, with a relentless trust that our purpose is something God had in mind for us all along.

 

Join us April 28th for our Unleash Your Life Purpose Workshop and begin to find and unleash your unique and stunning purpose into this world. 

 

All Things New

All Things New

     We are made for community. I knew this from my earliest days. I remember trying to be bigger than I was to tag along with my older siblings. I never wanted to be left behind or told I was too small or young to join in the fun. Sometimes I still feel that familiar pang of pain at the injustice of not being included. My friend John says, “being invited and being welcomed are two different things. Whether invited or not, you are always welcome around here.” This is how I think the body of Christ should be, but sometimes it feels like some exclusive club that I don’t have the members only card needed to get past the door guard.

     We celebrated the sacrament of Eucharist yesterday, which happens about once a month at our church. One talented artist told a story about running away in his youth and how his family welcomed him back to the table with love. This was an excellent segue to the story of the prodigal son and a great reminder that our heavenly father is just like the father in this story. That he has prepared a place for us at the table and he delights in our return to him. Although I feel the nearness of his presence in my breath and in nature, in my relationships, and in my work and ministry, I am feeling disconnected from his presence in the church. This breaks my heart because I know the church is the bride of Christ and the hope of the world.

     I am trying to figure out when it happened and how to repair what feels like a tiny hairline fracture that is quickly spreading and dividing me from the place that I call home. While on a walk with a dear friend, she asked good questions and let me rant about the church that we both love dearly. She said, “the church is just broken people like you and me, but they have liability issues.” They have to present well and pretend that everything is perfect from up there, so they don’t get sued. To me, that seems inauthentic and feels like a breach of trust. I want to believe that my church is special. It was in this church that I first tasted real Christian community, and that I fell hook line and sinker for the Acts 2 community that they were selling; where people take off their masks and bring their whole selves to the table. I feel confused by the mixed messages I am receiving. I realize that the pain that this stirs causes me to want to run far and fast in the other direction, but I know wherever I go, there I am. I want to be a part of the solution.

     I signed up to lead a Journey Group which helps provide care for those who have experienced trauma and abuse. Unfortunately, I was not chosen to lead which reinforced a lie, that my church doesn’t want to use my gifts. I showed up anyway. I love my church and I want to care for its people, but after one session, we were told that we needed to go through a 12 step recovery program if we wanted to lead, and since that time, our church stopped offering Journey Groups. In a church this size it is near impossible to meet all the needs of the people, so instead of pastoral care, they changed their name to pastoral response. As much as I want to be invited in and be used in my church, I know that my work in the world is to care deeply for those who are broken. So, instead of begging to be welcomed in and used within the walls of the church, I will follow Jesus out into the world and go where he leads me. I will enter the walls of my church with gratitude for the gift that I receive there, imperfect as it may seem through my eyes that were made for heaven. I will practice gratitude and worship God in the walls of my church as best as I am able. I will release the pain I feel and surrender my desire at the foot of the cross. I will trust in God’s promise:

“He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making all things new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” – Revelation 21:5

All Things New

We are made for community. I knew this from my earliest days. I remember trying to be bigger than I was to tag along with my older siblings. I never wanted to be left behind or told I was too small or young to join in the fun. Sometimes I still feel that familiar pang of pain at the injustice of not being included. My friend John says, “being invited and being welcomed are two different things. Whether invited or not, you are always welcome around here.” This is how I think the body of Christ should be, but sometimes it feels like some exclusive club that I don’t have the members only card needed to get past the door guard.

We celebrated the sacrament of Eucharist yesterday, which happens about once a month at our church. One talented artist told a story about running away in his youth and how his family welcomed him back to the table with love. This was an excellent segue to the story of the prodigal son and a great reminder that our heavenly father is just like the father in this story. That he has prepared a place for us at the table and he delights in our return to him. Although I feel the nearness of his presence in my breath and in nature, in my relationships, and in my work and ministry, I am feeling disconnected from his presence in the church. This breaks my heart because I know the church is the bride of Christ and the hope of the world. I am trying to figure out when it happened and how to repair what feels like a tiny hairline fracture that is quickly spreading and dividing me from the place that I call home. While on a walk with a dear friend, she asked good questions and let me rant about the church that we both love dearly. She said, “the church is just broken people like you and me, but they have liability issues.” They have to present well and pretend that everything is perfect from up there, so they don’t get sued. To me, that seems inauthentic and feels like a breach of trust. I want to believe that my church is special. It was in this church that I first tasted real Christian community, and that I fell hook line and sinker for the Acts 2 community that they were selling; where people take off their masks and bring their whole selves to the table. I feel confused by the mixed messages I am receiving. I realize that the pain that this stirs causes me to want to run far and fast in the other direction, but I know wherever I go, there I am. I want to be a part of the solution. I signed up to lead a journey group which helps provide care for those who have experienced trauma and abuse. Unfortunately, I was not chosen to lead which reinforced a lie, that my church doesn’t want to use my gifts. I showed up anyway. I love my church and I want to care for its people, but after one session, we were told that we needed to go through a 12 step recovery program if we wanted to lead, and since that time, our church stopped offering journey groups. In a church this size it is near impossible to meet all the needs of the people, so instead of pastoral care, they changed their name to pastoral response. As much as I want to be invited in and be used in my church, I know that my work in the world is to care deeply for those who are broken. So, instead of begging to be welcomed in and used within the walls of the church, I will follow Jesus out into the world and go where he leads me. I will enter the walls of my church with gratitude for the gift that I receive there, imperfect as it may seem through my eyes that were made for heaven. I will practice gratitude and worship God in the walls of my church as best as I am able. I will release the pain I feel and surrender my desire at the foot of the cross. I will trust in God’s promise “He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making all things new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” – Revelation 21:5

The Path to Purpose

The Path to Purpose

I love the Wizard of Oz.  When I was a little girl, I would eagerly anticipate the one time a year it was played on the television.  We all crammed into the living room and gathered around the 18-inch screen.  Though times have changed, there are a few universal themes that the movie ushered in to my young and developing mind.  I remember being enamored by the contrast between the black and white of the daily grind and the vibrant colors of Oz.  Are you living a black and white, going through the motions kind of life?  Do you long to live in full color with sparkling ruby slippers and all?  The journey toward purpose is a journey inward, back to the truth of who you are.  But how do you get there?  Where do you begin? Simply take a step for a change and just follow the yellow brick road…

Another part of the movie that struck me was young Dorothy’s courage to step into the great unknown all alone. Once she stepped onto the path, everything she needed appeared. She found her community by stepping out in faith. She reached out to help a scarecrow who was up in a lurch, pausing along the way to oil up a rusty tin man, and looking beyond a cowardly lion’s roar to see the sweet and tender interior. Maybe our tribe, the people we need to help fulfill our life’s purpose, are right outside of our door. We only need courage enough to take a step for a change, reach out and help someone, and just follow the yellow brick road…

Finally, the most profound truth of the movie, is that everything that is really needed has been there all along. We travel great distances in search or something; striving and reaching, when the best thing is always to cultivate a pause, and turn in to notice.  There is so much magnificence within… Celebrate it!  Let your heart say thank you for the mind, heart, courage and pathway home to the center that has been within you all along.  Be brave like Dorothy Gale and show up for yourself for a change. 

Strength in Community

Strength in Community

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor:  If either of them falls down, one can help the other up… A chord of three strands is not easily broken.” Ephesians 4:9-10, 12

I first experienced the tremendous healing power of a group when working with kids at the wellness center a few years ago.  There were 10 kids in the room ranging from 7 – 12.  They were all girls and the other thing they had in common was that cancer was affecting their life.  One day a 9-year-old girl was lying on her mat, too sick from her treatment to participate in the yoga.  Another girl made a comment that it wasn’t fair that she wasn’t doing it.  Her older sister shot up like a rocket and leaned way into the other girl’s space and said, “It’s because she’s got cancer!”  Another young girl in a quiet and sad voice said, “my dad just died from cancer,” and one more girl spoke up to say, “My dad died last year from cancer.”  I threw my plan out the window and used the next hour to bring to light the elephant in the room.  When I first began volunteering there, I was determined to provide a fun distraction from the cancer.  I tried not to mention the “C” word unless one of the kids brought it up, and they rarely did, because they were happy to get a break form it. 

We began to pretend our minds were televisions and we each held our remote and practiced pushing pause, we turned in to focus on the unchanging light within each one of our hearts.  We paused to breathe deeply and exhale away the tension and fear and sadness we shared.  The light inside of each of our hearts seemed to be connected to our loved ones and together it was stronger.  The children identified what was hard about cancer and suddenly they didn’t feel so alone in their pain and it loosened its grip, jut a bit.  I explained that every person in that room had the cancer channel on their T.V.  It is a hard place to wait.  It’s helpful to remember, but also important not to stay too long in the place of sadness.  We have the power to push pause or change the channel at any moment.  The children were invited to remember a precious memory from the past, a happy day or moment, before cancer showed up.  You could see the smiles on the kids’ faces as they remembered when life was “normal.”  The kids learned how important it is to remember our loved ones with gratitude, for this is how they live on in our hearts.  We can turn our remote controls to a place of happy remembering whenever we want, but be careful not to stay too long there either.  We have to live in the present moment and work in each moment to carry the light of those we have loved and lost out into the world.  Today, in the midst of being too close to cancer, I remember that group with profound gratitude because it helped me name my own grief and fear around the disease. 

The next time I found myself in a group that rocked my world was a “Listen to My Life” personal story mapping group.  Seven of us met weekly in a friend’s living room for over a year to unpack our stories and begin to recognize and reflect back to one another the work that God has been doing in our lives from the beginning.  Sometimes we miss the forest through the trees and we need caring eyes and loving gazes in the dark places of confusion and shame.  It is so transformative to have love in the valleys and company all along the journey.  As we entered into the intimate places of our stories together our compassion and love grew beyond what we could have hoped for or imagined.  We began to recognize universal themes of humanity that felt so personal until we noticed them threaded through the fibers of other stories at the table.  Dan Allender said, “We can’t see our face unless it’s reflected back in the face of another.”  The mirroring and attunement that happened at that table changed my brain and my life.  I healed in deep places that I didn’t even realize I was broken in.  To offer this gift of sacred community and hold safe containers of care is one of the primary missions of SOW that…

I also sat in a circle with 86 others at a woman’s retreat this week.  It was a beautiful space filled with courageous and blessed women.  After spending an hour moving and breathing and praying with our mind, body and Spirit, you could feel a lightness and beauty and ease floating through that space.  The women did a guided meditation in which they scanned their bodies for the clenched fist and places they were still clinging tightly and were invited to let go and breathe life and blessing into every fiber of their beings.  They turned to face another person in the circle and for just 3 minutes were asked to share their hearts and then practice listening from the heart.  After that exercise each woman checked out with a word, the harvest of blessing that they would take back into their daily walk.  It was holy and beautiful and affirmed the profound need and value of community.  We spend our lives serving and giving and doing, but the time has come for us to cultivate a pause, to be still and allow loving eyes to rest upon us.  We must show up for ourselves and come to the table of blessing, to be seen, known and loved.  If this is what your heart needs, please click the link to sign up for our “Lighten UP – wellness group” starting this month.

"Knowledge is power.  Community is strength & positive attitude is everything.”

                                                                                                -Lance Armstrong
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room

Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room

              I’m in a season of learning to let go and relinquish what I cannot control.  As I loosen my grip of my adult son so that he can step fully onto his journey, I simultaneously practice lifting him to the Light.  Holding on and letting go is the sacred dance and rhythm of life.  This season of life is harder than I anticipated.  I want to hold hope in my heart as well as space to listen and respond in love, but often I find my heart overflowing with desire for connection and intimacy, as well as expectations and demands.  I want to go deep quickly because our time together is always too short and divided too many ways.  My heart holds hurt and disappointment at the fact that he doesn’t want to hunker down at home with his family.  I want to see him and know the depths of his heart while he wants to hide and flee.  As my heart breaks, I go into self preservation mode, get angry, and want to make him pay.  My heart wants justice and tries to power up and put him back in line.  Then there’s shame that follows… too much truth not enough grace.  I understand why he doesn’t want to be around me.

I had an opportunity to practice the ministry of presence while driving my son back to college after Thanksgiving break.  I wasn’t looking forward to spending 10 hours in the car, but I knew it would be a good time to sit side by side and serve him.  It was a challenging week in which our connection and communication left much to be desired.  As I got in the car, I set the intention of lowering my expectations and doing my best to just love him where he is at.  I practiced holding my tongue and releasing him from the pressure of responding to my questions.  As we sat together in the stillness, I focused my awareness on the light in me.  Every time I wanted to change the radio station or ask a critical question, I paused and practiced only kindness.  Something inside me softened and he sensed it. It was a sweet ride and we went our separate ways feeling loved and connected.

            In the story of the first Christmas, there was no room in the inn for the newborn king.  The savior of the world had to enter into a filthy barn with animals as roommates and straw for bedding.  This gift of Joy for our world is still and always will be available.  Too often, my heart is cluttered with noise and confusion, fear and busyness that I miss the sweet gift of Christmas.  This year I am committed to receive the gift of peace and joy that is available every moment of the day.   This is a powerful spiritual discipline called practicing Presence. 

At the beginning of each yoga class, I invite students to arrive.  As you sink your sitting bones into the earth and allow the roots to settle deeply into this time and space, you get the feeling of returning home.  From this place of stability, you can finally start to expand in all directions.  As you lengthen your spine and broaden your collarbones, your heart opens and you can begin to breathe fully.  As you connect to your breath mindfully, you are choosing to be fully present in this sacred union of body, mind and the Holy Spirit which rides on the medium of the breath.  This practice is centering.  You can do it any place any time.  It only requires that you choose to be fully present here and now.  This practice changes everything!

            We live in a world where life is moving at lightening speed.  From the moment our feet hit the floor in the morning til we fall to our beds at night, we are on the go.  We are always connected through the world wide web and yet have a sinking feeling of being dis-jointed or separated in some way.  The cultural demands and speed are causing such great stress, that many people are suffering from adrenal fatigue and can’t stop their precious minds from spinning.  Many people do not know how to get off of the hamster wheel of life.  In John Ortberg’s book The Me I Want to Be, he talked about driving through the woods and reading a sign that stopped him in his tracks.  It read:  Caution! Speed Kills.  Driving through winding roads at neck-breaking speed is very dangerous, but so is speeding through your day to day. 

            Why are we in such a hurry?  What are we running toward or away from?  What happens when you choose to stop?  When I first began meditating, it felt like slamming on the breaks of the car.  Although my body was still, everything inside kept moving.  It is hard to sit with the discomfort of pain and uncertainty that fear brings.  It feels like a waste of time to just sit there when there is so much to do.  “What’s the point?  I’m not even good at this!” I remember crying out to no one in particular.  What I have learned is that if you can’t be present within your own self, there is no way that you will be able to sit with another in their discomfort.

            We practice stillness so that we can experience our true and divine nature.  “God is at home (within us) and we have gone out for a walk.” Meister Eckhart wrote.  It is time to return home to Christ in ME – that still small voice that knows the way to profound peace and real and authentic connection.  When we begin to bask in our true and divine nature we become lighthouses in dark spaces and our job is simply to sit and shine; reflecting the love and light of Christ to a dark and weary world.

            This advent season, why don’t you try to DO less so you can BE more present, aware, kind and bright?  It is a simple practice that we can return to moment by moment, breath by breath.  Try this: Breathe in and invite the light to fill you.  Pause and abide in this luminous light. Breathe out to release whatever stress or tension you are holding.  Pause… and begin again!

 

            

Dear Cancer

Dear Cancer

Dear Cancer,

I wanted to write a letter cursing you and erasing you from this world and from the lives of all those I love who are battling, beaten, or dead because of you. I want to shrink wrap you in mercury and let you sink to the ocean floor, never to surface again, but I can’t.  Instead, I will thank you for the gifts that you have given me since you first rocked my world 32 years ago.

Thank you for teaching me to remain curious and open in the face of fear and confusion.  When I first heard the “C –word,” I thought cancer = death.  I now know that you are an invitation to pay attention, to ask good questions, and to fight with all of our strength.  You are like a scarlet letter that beckons the world to stand up and live fully beyond a label.  When my dad first got you, the fear caused me to shrink and disappear without a sound, but since that time I have learned to look you in the eye and to accept you.  To love and engage fiercely because of you.  To challenge information with curiosity and never stop believing in the light and strength that is so much bigger than you.

Thank you for helping me to shift perspective and focus on the gift of life that we have each day that we wake up.  Thank you for teaching me about gratitude and learning to see the blessing in the trial that you invite us into.  There is something about the threat that you bring into the room that makes us notice what is most important now and what really matters so that we can let go of all of the debris and distractions that muddy up our days and cause us to suffer.  When I step into the room with someone I love who has been infected or affected by you, I take off my shoes because I know I am stepping on holy ground.  Your nasty presence helps us to cut through the BS and go straight to matters of the heart.

Thank you for giving me an opportunity to learn courage to engage the mess that you bring and move toward you with all of my heart.  To open up and be real and invite others to do the same.  Though I tremble when I hear your name, there is a voice louder than you that leads me and carries me through your pain and to a place of strength and wonder, humble beauty, and outrageous love.

Thank you for strengthening my faith muscles and helping me to fix my eyes not on what is seen and temporary, but on what is unseen and eternal.

Through my wrestling with you, I have found my story of hope and redemption.  You have shown me that heaven and earth are closer than I ever knew.

One day at the Wellness place after being face to face with 3 siblings, age 6,5, & 4 who lost their mom just 5 days prior to you, I fell to the floor and wept.  I begged for insight and I saw a rainbow bridge and heard the first line to my book: “I’m building a bridge to heaven, one little brick at a time…” I began to understand that you are actually a gift in the way you cause the people who are suffering to look up in hope that one day they will be with their loved one that you took away.  I began to understand that our friends who had to leave this world too soon, because of you, are actually reaching down to greet us through this rainbow bridge, offering light and color, beauty and delight if only we could shift our eyes to see.

Thank you for helping me learn to let go and trust that there is so much more than meets the eye.  Though you slay me, Cancer, it is very clear that you are not going away. I receive you and trust that you don’t have the final say, but you are here to make heaven and earth one and so I thank you for the painful gift and I see the light in you.

“The wound is where the Light enters.” – Rumi

 

Freedom:  It's an Inside Job!

Freedom: It's an Inside Job!

In letting go we are free.  Its that simple and that difficult all at once. The issue of bondage is in the head.  We become attached to ideas, thoughts, people and places and when it is time to move on, we tenaciously cling. This is where the suffering begins, but the good news is, it is where the healing begins as well.  

Freedom begins the moment we let go of our limiting beliefs and the thoughts and ideas that no longer serve us.  

It sounds easy, but it’s an intense discipline that takes continuous practice.  In the book of Romans, Paul writes: “do not conform to the patterns of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” When I first read that, I memorized and used it as a touchstone to remind me how to find freedom and transformation.  We move beyond the patterns of suffering by training the mind.  This idea is reinforced in the yoga sutras when they explain the two wings of the spiritual journey of yoking or integrating mind, body and Spirit as abhyasa(practice), and vairagya (renunciation –letting go).  It has taken me countless years of practice and letting go to experience a taste of freedom.  It is the sort of freedom that is worth fighting for.  

I recently hit a rough patch in my journey.  Although I was teaching about freedom and letting go, inside I was suffering.  When I feel overwhelmed, sometimes I just put myself to bed in hopes of rebooting the system.  I fell into a deep and restorative sleep instantly.  When my alarm sounded an hour later, I awoke with the words of my wise teacher in my head.  “As long as you cling, you will suffer.”  I had to turn in and scan my mind, body, and heart for the clenched fist, only to find I had grabbed onto my college aged son with two hands.  Although I sent him away to college and let go 2 months prior, I keep trying to hold tightly to the reigns of control and guide him from afar.  It is not working and so…. I suffer.  I relinquish control and ahhh I am free.  He is on a journey and my job is to love and trust and let go… moment by moment and breath by precious breath.

 

Called to more

Called to more

In his hand was placed a trowel and on his rear a swift kick that said “Go! Survive, kid!”  At the ripe and tender age of 18, my husband, Kevin, was on his own.  Shortly after he graduated High School, he had to find an apartment and get to work.  For most kids his age, it was a summer of careless freedom and profound expansion.  Kevin was forced to grow up too soon.  He was shackled with responsibility and a desperate need to survive.

 Kevin got a job laboring for a masonry restoration company during the day, and he went to school in the evening.  He dreamed of being an architect and building something from the pile of rubble that he had been given.  He was determined to rise above his circumstances and be successful.  He trudged away at his education for years, like building something one brick at a time.  After we got married and had our second child, the financial strain and need for his presence at home after work was too great.  He decided to put his education on hold and start his own business.  He built a successful masonry company from a guy in a pick up truck doing side jobs to a corporation with employees to lead.  He flourished and loved being able to provide.  He did so well, that I was able to quit my teaching job and stay home to raise our four children.  In my eyes, he was a huge success. 

Kevin knew he was capable of so much more.  A sense of discontent was growing in him as he watched me engage in meaningful work and ministry.  He said, “You help people!  All I do is make money and provide.”  This nagging feeling that there must be something more for him kept him wrestling and wondering.  One day he declared that he was taking the winter off and going back to school to finish up his degree.  In just two semesters, he earned his bachelor’s degree and applied for grad school.  He studied relentlessly for the GRE in hopes of getting his Masters in Counseling so he could help the fatherless.  He knew his calling was connected to his own story of father absence and neglect, but he didn’t know exactly how he was supposed to make a difference in this area. 

After not getting in to the graduate program of his choice, Kevin got discouraged and began to question if this was the best next step.  It was at this time that he began training for the “Dad’s Honor Ride.” This three-week long bike ride went from Boston to Chicago and focused on raising awareness and funds for father absence.  In his training and over the course of the one week of the ride that he was able to participate in, Kevin began to accept that now is not the right time to get his master’s degree.  As he stepped away from the daily grind, he began to hear a call coming from another direction.  Through the process of prayer and discernment, he has decided to focus on mind/body/Spirit health and integration.  He registered for an on-line personal training program to study and learn how to help people achieve better holistic health.

Shortly after he made this decision, a friend reached out to him about the possibility of helping to open a faith based gym in this area.  The thought of doing something that he was passionate about infused Kevin with hope and joy.  For the first time in his life, he was following his heart’s desire rather than muscling through a major life decision.  Together, we are standing at a crossroads in awe of God’s provision and leadership.  We are humbly surrendering and seeking His will.  We are resting in the truth that He is a God of second chances and He is also a good father who has a plan to prosper Kevin and use every ounce of his pain of father absence for the Glory of His kingdom.  We don’t know the end of the story, but we are so thankful to be on this journey.

In his hand he holds possibility and by his side he has a tribe of people that love and believe in him.  This man has come so far and we wait expectantly as God turns the tables and helps him navigate from a place of survival to a place where he can thrive and make a difference.  

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord,” plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11