My Rule

It’s not a rule; it’s a way to measure how I’m doing in life.

I tell myself this so that I don’t panic with all the responsibility or rebel against the “requirements.” Knowing beforehand that I will be imperfect at this is being gracious with myself. Thomas Merton prayed something to this effect: we hope that the desire to please God does, in fact, please God. I believe this wholeheartedly, and I also believe that holding myself accountable is the responsible thing to do good for me. My resistance to post this, to hold it out in the light instead of tucked away in my journal speaks to how truthful this is, what power it can unleash.

I must be feeling brave today. Here goes…

For care of self

Daily: journal/read/write; eat well; sleep; honor healthy boundaries/limits

Weekly: exercise; spend quality time with husband; reflect on what I’m reading in a journal

Seasonally: take a personal retreat; clear clutter in at least one area of my life/home; reflect on new material to read/listen to

For Relationships with Others

Daily: pray; show love; smile; focus on the one I’m with without distraction

Weekly: give individual attention (preferably 30 min) to my family members; enjoy a game night/family activity; serve through outreach ministry

Seasonally: spend a weekend/time with friends/family

For Relationship with Creation

Daily: recycle; keep thermostats at reasonable temperatures; walk when possible; turn lights out (& lights off by 10pm); use washable items (especially water bottles) as much as possible

Weekly: tend a flower bed or place in the yard/garden; if eating at a restaurant, eat someplace environmentally and food-friendly

Seasonally: hike/camp/enjoy the natural environment

For Relationship with God

Daily: pray the Morning Office or participate in the Holy Eucharist; meditate/contemplate 20 minutes

Weekly: practice lectio divina with the lectionary; worship corporately

Seasonally: monthly spiritual direction; spiritual retreat; confession

This is not set in stone, and it will change with time. If the first step is the hardest, I’m on my way, but I’m sure taking the next gazillion steps will require perseverance and love, too.

I told my husband that I will share my rule with him tonight so he can be on board (he’s already been completely supportive with my self-care goals lately). He can’t wait to hear it, he says.

“Want to know my rule?” he asked.

On the phone? Really? I thought. “Sure,” I said out loud.

“It’s easy. Four words.”

I try to guess it before he says anything. He’s always making dramatic pauses. I’m thinking about love and family.

“Don’t be a d*ck,” he says. “It’s simple.” I can tell he’s smiling.

I laugh, because this is perfect for him. I told him I was going to include it in this post, and he said I should make sure to credit Will Wheaton. Thanks, Will, for sharing your Law.

Here’s to the next steps in our lives!

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Comfortable, Not Numb

At the end of the day–most days, actually–what I really want to do is put on my jammies (if I’m not in them already) and curl up on the sofa to watch a movie, preferably a good one with a happy ending. If I’m really tired, maybe just my p.j.’s and a mindless game on the iPad. (I’ve always been a Tetris kind of gal.) There are also nights when I make myself avoid the screen and pretend like I’ll read something (because the truth is I’ll read about a paragraph before falling asleep).

What does this say about the quality of my bedtime ritual? What does this say about my self-care? My life?

This Lent, I’ve been loosely following along with SSJE’s “Growing a Rule of Life.” I already have unwritten rules, but before Easter morning, I plan to have them written because like everyone else I need structure and guidelines specific to me and my life. These guides will help and encourage me to grow in the way I believe God would have me grow. Like the garden velcro I’ve used to stake small trees or unruly tomatoes, these rules will be strong but flexible, good for now and amendable for when I’ve grown into a new stage.

I will likely have more than one rule dedicated to my care of self. I need and deserve such attention and focus.

What struck me last night as I turned to my iPad for a game was that I was seeking a quick fix for my tired body, a distraction for my weary mind. The Pink Floyd song “Comfortably Numb” popped into my head. How would such distractions actually help me? What I really needed was rest, true rest, not some kind of numbing agent to take away my awareness of what is real. What is real is my need to be mindful of myself, to acknowledge that caring for others takes a toll on oneself emotionally if not physically.

I didn’t do it last night but on the night before, I gave myself a glimpse of what might work. Compline. No screen. Not too much reading or thought required. Gentle, soothing, rhythmic words to grant me rest and comfort. Afterward, I turned out the light and settled into my pillow beneath the cool sheet and blankets. A deep, content sigh is all I remember. I wasn’t numb or distracted. I ended my day in true comfort.

My Rule won’t be about making sure my day is all comfort and zero distraction; that’s not the way life works. My Rule will be the garden velcro to help keep me closer to God when I would rather fall away into numbness. Being numb is easy in the moment, but it does nothing but stunt our growth.

 

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All in a Word

Identity

Who are you at the deepest level? When Jesus looks at you and loves you, who does he see? What is it which truly makes you come alive? Is God inviting you to take a risk and to go deeper?

-Br. Geoffrey Tristram
Society of Saint John the Evangelist

The church’s new year comes at the first of Advent. The calendrical new year comes January first, without fail. My bursts of energy and momentum to get going come in fits and starts like an old Model T; when I’m rearing to go, I’m full throttle, but when I’m not, there’s no end to the strain of getting motivated.

Except now.

At least, for these past few days or weeks.

Or has it been months already?

Barring any unforeseen circumstances, I feel I’m awakening a bit more, becoming more fully who I truly am, realizing the amazing depth of growth. It’s not just about getting older, which I am, but it’s also about being more fully aware. One thing I find most interesting is that when I hear something–even if I’ve heard it before–there are implications and meaning. I am rarely dismissive. Our lives call for interaction, so I either act or not in any given circumstance, fully aware that my non-action has as much repercussion as any action I might take.

Awareness.

That’s a word.

But it’s not my word for this year, which I was trying so hard to have before January One. Like a child’s cooperation, though, I couldn’t force it and have it be authentic. I went through most of Advent following along with SSJE’s “Brother, Give Us a Word,” trying to increase my awareness and attention . . . and intention, probably. My motivation sputtered until it wasn’t even idling. I remained parked through Christmas.

A magical thing about the liturgical cycle is that it gets ingrained in us, and like any habitual practice, it can carry us, moving us onward even when it feels like we aren’t going anywhere. Along comes Epiphany, and maybe it’s because I’ve been thinking about Jesus’s work among the people with whom he lived and breathed that I’ve been thinking deeply about my own work–not as a comparison, mind you, but as a what-am-I-doing-if-I’m-living-into-who-I-truly-am kind of way.

For better or for worse, in our American culture, what we do, what our work is, can be a reflection of who we are, who we identify ourselves as. (Not always, of course, but sometimes.) I work as a priest, which means I have a varied list of tasks and responsibilities. Working at being a Christian is a huge (if not whole) part of who I am. If I whittle down through what I do and filter through my gifts, I remember that as a child, I was always writing stories. I was always listening. Imagining. Think what you will about all the associations of the inner child, but I hear her loudly and clearly calling out to me with every writing utensil and journal I receive or buy, “WRITE!”

And that scares the bejesus out of me. (Pardon the expression.)

Which probably means it is one of the truest things that I can do.

This comes to mind:

I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.  Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. ~ Romans 7:18b-20, NRSV

Writing scares me because in the process I tend to more clearly hear the voice of God, walk alongside Spirit, come face to face with Christ because it is right for me and probably right for others, too. Not doing it encourages me farther away from God, allows me to fill that energy with other, less life-giving things.

Writing scares me because in the sharing of my words, I open my heart even more than I already do (and I think I’m a pretty open-hearted person), making myself even more vulnerable. Vulnerable on many levels but especially the one where what I say might not please you, the reader.

So I’m reading Brené Brown after loving her TEDx talks but not reading the books lest they call me to actually do something daring. Obviously. I’m working on embracing my Wholeheartedness because that’s where I experience Joy. If I embrace the part of me who writes, then I can, perhaps, become even more Wholehearted which, in turn, means an even better Christian.

I accept the challenge. My word for 2016 is WRITE.

Doing that which is hard and scary is best not done alone. So I’m doing an even more ridiculous thing by asking for help. Dammit. <–Apparently my ego doesn’t like this.

  • Ask me how my writing is going, whether it be in my journal or blog or projects. (What writer doesn’t have multiple projects going?)
  • Share what your identity calls you to do.
  • Connect. If not with me, then with others. Find those who are trustworthy with your Wholehearted self, those who are there to help keep us focused when we slip and succumb to that which is not life-giving.

Giving full credit to Ciara Barsotti for the art and Brené Brown for the words, this sits as encouragement on my desk.

And I give myself a gold star today for writing.

 

 

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Looking Up

With the weather turning colder and with the sky staying gray more often than not, my eyes tend to chart the path of my feet.  On my way to class the other day, however, I happened to look up.

tree_with_red_top

I see a few leaves holding on with all their might, somehow holding onto the tip-top of the tree.  They are aflame like candlelight, burning brightly in the face of the wind.  What is it they reveal to me this day?  What do I need to know?  That I myself am out on limb, exposed for all to see and watch in my successes and failures?  That I am attached to things that eventually I will have to let go of?  That nature is amazing in its color palette, and I simply need to notice?  Maybe these leaves held on long enough to be seen.

Most of us are trying so hard to do what is right, to do well, and to make the world a little better for our being here.  Sometimes our presence is enough.  Persevere.  Shine brightly.  Know when to let go.

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Hello, Time.

Situation: my sense of time is skewed.

Solution: reacquaint myself with time.

It’s not that I don’t understand there are 24 hours in every day; I get this.  What I recognize is that something in my time management needs to be shifted.

As if my awareness of this early in the day were not enough, to further emphasize the point, I was late for an afternoon class.  It wasn’t intentional by any means–just a perfect cluster of events to keep my conscious awareness of the class out of focus or absent altogether.

Awareness and affirmation, check.

How might I “reacquaint myself with time,” if this is how I sense a solution to the perceived problem?  I am not venturing far in making some simple observations, nor am I exhaustive of all the issues at hand.  In creating perspective, however, I have to be realistic of my current needs and present situation as wife, mother, and student.

  • I need more sleep.
  • I must take care of my physical body.
  • Quality matters.

I realize that with these three simple statements, I can address a variety of aspects of my life.  Creating a few practical goals will, I hope, incorporate a better sense of my place in time.

  • Go to bed around 11pm.
  • Walk/Bike to school and local places.
  • Eat good-for-us foods.
  • Be present and aware in relationships and studies.

To achieve these seemingly simple goals, I will have to keep a detailed calendar.  (I am trying to use digital calendars, but I am still connected to my hand-held calendar book!)  I will have to insert travel time and continue to make menus that also account for snacks and easy-to-prepare healthy meals for a large family.  For me, prayer, listening, and writing encourage mindfulness, and as importantly for me right now, I will have to turn out the light before a new day begins.

As a friend pointed out in her sermon today, “God is before us, and friends are with us.”  I am not alone in any endeavor, but I do have to take initiative to “create the field for deep change,” as my spiritual director suggests.

Suggestions are appreciated, and I am more than willing to share my resources as well . . . as soon as I figure out what those are!

“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.”    ~ Mother Teresa

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Another Beginning

We give birth to so many things in our lives.  We create art.  We forge friendships.  We beget children.  These are no small things.

What I notice most about the most significant births is that they are born from a place of surrender.  My ego gives up, and I let what needs to be born come forth.  With each of my children, such is the nature of their birth.  In some of my better writing, the words seemed to form themselves.  My most sincere friendships found their own way to my heart and took root there.

This home, this school, this town we find ourselves in now, I imagine the same holds true.  In the stillness of the morning, I marvel at the sunlight falling down through the trees.  I wonder at the moisture, the thunderstorms, having come from a place not far away experiencing harsh drought.  (Believe me, I’m trying to send the rain back home!)  I am here for formation.  For a true birth to happen, I will have to let go.

That doesn’t mean I let go of all that was, of all who are a part of my life.  In as much as this is a community affair, this is mostly a time for me to grow, not away from who I am but more fully into who I am, who I am meant to be.  No one says a birth is easy, nor do I hear often that they’re beautiful affairs to observe (aside from those who hold the process near and dear to their hearts when a baby is being born). But I give thanks in advance for those who will serve as witnesses to my own birth, who will hold the space around me, love me unconditionally, and remind me that the ground is still there when I feel I’ve lost my way.

 

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About time

Yes, it’s about time.

“Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while,” says Jesus to his disciples.

That was in my daily reading this morning, and, oh, how I do long for a retreat.  I’ve been away from the family on weekends relatively recently, but it’s been a while since it was truly a retreat for retreat’s state.  At this point in my life, I need clarity, calm, and a solid sense of direction and purpose.  This is harder to maintain when one is frazzled, drowning in to-do’s, or just downright tired.

 

Jesus was speaking to his disciples.  I wonder who speaks to the women these days.  Who tells the overworked mother to rest a moment, take an hour between nursing, grab a pot of tea and go gaze out the window . . . or sleep a few minutes.  All will be well.  Who tells the outside-the-home-working-mothers that it’s okay to be away for another day or two from the family, not to feel guilty about the piling chores and pleading eyes?  I don’t think anyone speaks up because those around us aren’t sure that all will truly be well.  But, it’s better for a mom to take some time out than to walk around getting crazy eyes and becoming more and more like a woman on edge.  Maybe I project.

 

We have to take care of ourselves.  To nearly every mother I talk to, I ask if she’s taking care of herself.  I ask about her support system.  To the women I work with and for others I know, I try to set an example.  If I can get away from my household with four kids, surely they can, too.  It’s not perfect, but it’s OKAY.

 

I wonder about those who don’t need or take time-outs for themselves.  Are they being honest?  Have they fully shut down from their inner voices that guide and protect their best interests?  Because I think that’s where dreams and hopes exist.  If we shut out that voice, we risk losing sight of who we truly are and thus risk losing our sense of purpose in this world.  Yes, being a mother is a worthy purpose, but does it give you a sense of joy — mind, body, and soul?  If not, you’re not listening carefully enough to yourself.  If so, blessings, my Mother-friend; spread that love and joy!

 

I grant you permission to take a time-out.  Find a friend with a cabin for a night or a weekend.  Pack your favorite nourishing food and beverage.  Sleep in silence, all by yourself.  For you extroverts, take a gang of mothers with you and enjoy the party!  If a weekend doesn’t work, take at least 15 minutes a day for you, and only you.  I smile thinking of my friend who locks the bathroom door for her quiet time.  Take it where you can get it!

 

As the kids get older, it gets easier to find the time, but priorities will still have to be juggled.  Seeking out a deserted place, finding the time to listen to my still, small voice, I know more clearly what the priorities are.  It takes that leap of faith to put me first that ironically grants me insight as to what is best for all.

 

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What Do I Expect?

Supposedly, the less we expect, the less disappointed we will be.  But without expectation, what standard would I hold for my home, my kids, . . . myself?  Obviously I have relatively high standards, and I think the same is true for most in our society.

But why are so many depressed or anxious?  What isn’t working?

I think part of it is the thinking that follows the line of “if I’m doing my part, everything should be okay . . . especially for me.”  Or maybe the expectation that if I can’t do something directly to fix xyz, then someone else will fix it.

Maybe there is expectation that life shouldn’t be too hard, that one shouldn’t have to sacrifice too much.

Maybe if it’s someone else’s problem, it’s none of my business.

I don’t know how I would go about my life if these were my expectations.  I think I work from these basic principles and the resulting expectations.

  • Living includes suffering –> Life is going to be hard.
  • Love & compassion alleviate suffering –> To make a difference, be compassionate.
  • We ALL have a choice –> Not everyone will make the same choices, nor will the choices always be good.
  • I am human –> I will be imperfect, try as I might to prove otherwise.
  • There is God –> There is Light, even and especially in the heart of darkness.

These are bigger expectations, of course, that things like, “My kids are respectful –> They pick up their toys and will keep the bathroom clean.”  But if I can keep my baseline clear and even, then I can keep (or at least have a chance at keeping) perspective.

When it comes to expectations, perspective can make all the difference.

 

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Happy Place

It’s come to my attention that not just laboring mothers need a “happy place,” some place – real or imaginary – to escape mentally when what is real is overbearing. Sometimes what we have to deal with is too much, and we need an immediate OUT.

I remember guiding my childbirth classes through such exercises, hoping to give them another tool for pain management.  Labor is painful; use what you can, and the more options you have lined up, the better.  When the physical demands start to overwhelm, it’s okay to put mind over matter.

Close your eyes.

Visualize your most favorite place in the world, down to the smell . . . feel . . . taste . . . look . . . and sound of it.

Have your loved one whisper about it in your ears or just hold your hand and be with you.

Before you know it, a minute has passed.  The pain subsides.  You might even look forward to the next contraction so you can go back to that magical place.  Maybe not.

Yesterday, in the office, we took turns, the three of us present, to share where we would go given carte blanche.  Where would we go?  What would we do?  Apparently we would scatter across the states and the globe, doing something we’d love or have always wanted to do, being with whomever we chose.

“I’m happier just thinking about it,” one woman said.

Maybe that’s inevitable.  listen to what your heart wants, let the mind pay attention, feeding it a little detail, and see what happens.

Even today on Facebook during my lunchbreak, I saw a friend post about her happy place, and in the comments I read how other friends were joining her!  We are attracted to what is good, no?  Take an everyday, mundane chore, and let yourself use the time to take a vacation.  Take others with you.  Enjoy it for the moment it lasts, and be happy.

Escapist?  Yes.  But for me, a moment to dream is not a wasteful use of time.  I have dreams.  There is so much beauty in the world.  I need to remember this when life bogs me down, heart and soul.  There is so much more to life than what I can see or even imagine in any given moment, and most of that is good.

For a quick reminder, I have a postcard of a German castle surrounded by mountains and trees in autumn color.  It works.  🙂

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Stories Not Yet Written

Having just finished The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, I find myself re-introduced into contemporary fiction and, consequently, how little I know about the swelling tide of book-dom.  This was a chance encounter at the library; I didn’t know there were at least four others in the “Thursday Next” novels, though after reading one, I can see the cause of popularity.  It was intelligent, crafty, and, as it says on the cover praise, “filled with clever wordplay, literary allusion and bibliowit.”  I didn’t even know there was such a word as “bibliowit,” but it makes perfect sense.

. . . Maybe I’ll pretend I didn’t spend half an hour reading the community.penguin blog . . . or signing up for GoodReads.  Before I continue down that rabbit hole . . .

One of the premises in Fforde’s novel is that the stories in the novel are relatively real.  The written stories play out repeatedly, always, and concurrently in their parallel universe.  (You have to read it first hand to understand.  That’s his genius, not mine.)  While the characters are human, they are sentenced to the role they’ve been given by the writer.  Their fate and destiny is very much determined.  It takes no small miracle to change the course of the stories, but it’s not impossible (in this fiction story, mind you).

It reminded me that sometimes I live my life as if my story has already been written.  I submit to my stereotype, conform to society, and maintain the appearance that is most convenient to others and often to myself.  When I have the potential to take an alternate route, I defer to what is known and comfortable, even laziness.  “What ifs” are unsettling at best when one strives to maintain a sense of stability and security, regardless of whether the potential is success or failure.

My story is not yet written, though.  I’m still alive.  I still have choices to make.  While that within me wants to stick to what has been done all these many generations, it feels as though I also have within me ties to that which is deviant.  If I can step off the well-trodden path, if I can greet each day as a page upon which I determine the destiny of the heroine, then perhaps a new cycle can begin.  It doesn’t have to garner the popular vote.

Most of the heroes in our world are unsung, virtually unknown.  Each of us, however, are the authors of our lives, the heroes/heroines of our own stories.  Each day is an adventure, each moment filled with choice and possibility.  The protagonist, of course, is anyone or anything that draws us away from creation, away from compassion.  What can I say?  I’m an optimist and a romantic.

“How strange is the lot of us mortals!  Each of us is here for a brief sojourn; for what purpose he knows not, though he senses it. But without deeper reflection one knows from daily life that one exists for other people.” ~Albert Einstein

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