Complete Stop

photo credit: ell brown via photopin cc
photo credit: ell brown via photopin cc

Internal tension reaches a fever pitch the week between Christmas and New Year’s. So much mental and physical energy is spent getting to Christmas, and then…done. We have our day or two of detox, yet life doesn’t quite return to normal. The Christmas tree and decorations are packed away but the kids are still home. I am always in a bit of a netherworld during this time. Naturally, as the New Year approaches I take stock of the previous year, and anticipate the next…thoughts turning toward new goals and ways to improve self. After being on this planet as long as I have, and having only ONE resolution stick, EVER, I know to be reticent seeking big changes. New habits don’t happen overnight, requiring intentional small choices over an extended period of time to take purchase.

After the month of parties and not running, I notice my pants are fitting not as kindly. Previously, I would jerk quickly toward temporary correction…dieting, plans to exercise more, self loathing. Like a car skidding on ice, the worst thing to do is jerk the wheel. Instead it must be gently guided back on track, or better yet, pulled over to a complete stop before moving forward.

This morning, after a day of paying way too much credence to my pants fitting problem, I realized the essentiality of a complete stop. My mental, physical and spiritual health require far more than two days post-Christmas 2014 to commence on Project New Year 2015.  Of course the tension is present, the tension of living in the ache of Advent conjoined with joy, expectation and hope, along with the inevitable forward trajectory of life.  I do not want to short circuit this important work by rushing headlong into new goals, expectations and improvements. This week represents the magnitude of what God has done for us through the sending of Jesus. It is not to be considered lightly, requiring me to live small. To set my course well, reflection, thoughtfulness, generosity and grace are all required, along with evaluation of where I am cutting corners, expecting too much or little, and making assumptions.

Dreaming is scary business, asking the question, “What do I really want?” Fear is quite a contender when seeking these answers. I have a problematic tendency to believe old goals and dreams, not accomplished to the level of my expectations should be renewed.  It is probably time to let them go, while beneficial in the past, they are not to remain part of my present and future.

So, in this week (or more) of waiting and resting I will practice what Anne Lamott calls “radical self care”. I will walk, eat until satisfied, go to bed and wake up early, drink coffee, pray and write, date my husband, clean the house, wear stretchy clothes, and spend time with family and friends. I will protect my mind and heart by minimizing comparisons to others..Facebook may need to be curtailed. I know when I’m in a fragile or contemplative state, it’s important to protect from the potential pitfalls of social media. Experiencing the “less than”, the “lack” is difficult but so important. I don’t want to trudge ahead without concern for what is best for myself, my relationships, just because I’m feeling vulnerable…being excessively focused on the markers that determine my self-worth.  Is joy possible in the midst of these moments? I have to believe that it is entirely possible. Joy is always mine when I can surrender…surrender my need for significance and longing for more or better. I may have to fight for her, but she is mine as long as I settle to a complete stop and trust. Wait. Learn. Embrace. Rest.

There is no need to rush or be premature. I want to approach 2015 intentionally, without fear, but with anticipation.

Be

Claire Jepsen
“C” — daughter of the broody hen

O ye beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow;
Look now, for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
Oh rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing.

Of all the holidays, Christmas is my favorite. The others I let go so I can summon the strength, energy and motivation for the BIG One.  Our traditions bring much anticipation and joy, for both us as parents and our children.  I love the decorations, getting the tree out of the box and placed in the window, planning the menu, buying the gifts, stringing the kids along all month and seeing their faces light up on Christmas morning. Eating together and enjoying one another…and putting myself back to bed at 10:00 AM when it’s all over.

This year, though, has been more difficult than in the past. Each task has been monumental, like trudging through sand to get to the destination. I do it because it’s my job and I do want to, but I have wrestled.

The strain of Advent is big. The wondering if it’s all just a sham. Is it true? This Child can and will honestly bring hope, joy, peace? But what about____? And _____? And _____?  Really?! I don’t quite trust it. I don’t quite believe that He can do all of this. The world He was born into, really was worse than this? And here I am in my suburban living room, surrounded by my life, recognizing my privilege in so many ways feeling just a bit guilty for having these questions and doubts.

Sitting in the dark, remembering grace, silencing the voices, I am reminded:

Be still and know that I am God. 

Be still? Really? There’s so much to do, so many details. So much confusion and misunderstanding…and fear. So many hurting people. So much uncertainty.

Be still and know that I AM.

God, Omniscient, Personal, Human and Divine. More than Enough. Grace. Wholeness. Sufficient. Satisfying. Hope. Joy. Peace.

Be still and know.

Because God already IS, I am enough, known and loved beyond measure or comprehension. Because He is perfect, I never need to be. I have permission to let go of the fear in the form of expectations that I put on myself and assume others are putting upon me. I get to accept Hope, choose Joy, receive Peace.

Be Still.

Be restful, find pleasure, celebrate, eat, give and receive with grace, let go, be kind, love well. Be myself, and find joy in what is now, what is here. Be expecting the gifts of this present moment and be fully who I was made to be. Accept peace.

My prayer is we will trust in the generous provision and abundance of our loving God, Emmanuel, come to us. Let us love generously and receive the many gifts that our ours by virtue of this Baby born in the humblest of ways, tended to by a young mother and terrified father, lowly shepherds, assorted farm animals, and the angels. Let us know we are each loved regardless of our circumstances, our performance, or how we “feel”. Recognizing the immense beauty of gracious rest, we are invited to participate in the generosity of this time.

Lord, let me not forget this…the beauty of Your coming to our world as a Baby, in a dark, makeshift delivery room, a cave, for us all in all of our mess, muck, busy, dysfunction, longing, joys, hurts, and fears. The mess of the stable is the mess of our hearts.

He knows!

Be.

Soft

large__65829367As long as I can remember, I have desired to have the body of a little boy…thin, lanky, hard-edged, muscular, straight. I have no idea when this notion implanted itself upon my conscience, but as a young girl, I felt too curvy, too feminine. It may have been the “style” of the day and Lord knows, we were in the age of discontent when it came to womanly form.

As my back issues have progressed, exercise has been set aside: running, Pilates, spin. While grateful for the break, having more time and energy to focus on the Holiday season, I have feared losing my edges, of becoming soft. As a not-boylike grown woman, I admit the temptation is still present, to long for the lean, athletic model physique. Fortunately, and I say this honestly, I have not the desire to go the lengths required.  More frequently, I am practicing kindness…embracing, upholding and appreciating my created form, recognizing the opportunity my health and strength afford.

With Advent upon us and all occurring around our nation and world, it is easy to draw parallels between our modern times and those in which Jesus arrived as an infant. The society was harsh…oppression, pain, hunger, injustice. The culture hard, lined, furrowed, people desperate for relief and hope. He, as a toddler, hunted by the authorities. Yet when He entered our world, He came in through softness, through humility, through simplicity. The stable reeking;  the night cold; father afraid, but trusting; Mary pondering, body providing sustenance for her new precious Life. Who got the first word of the Messiah’s arrival? Shepherds. Worn, tired, grimy, less-than.

Softness, of body and spirit, provides a delicate place to land..of safety, security, and grace. To be soft is to yield, to allow for displacement. When my babies arrived I had brief moments of relishing my soft. Breasts created to nourish, belly providing a nest for the new life, arms and shoulders supple to rock. Emotions at the ready to process  joy and grief, fear and awe…all simultaneous.

I am learning what it means to appreciate softness, in body and mind, tears ever present. I want to be that place to land…a place of not issuing judgment or decree, but a listening ear. To see the world around and grieve for what should be, that which God created, yet is not. I pray this Advent that we may experience the both/and, as Glennon Melton says, the Brutiful…the brutal and the beautiful. This world has enough hard edges, and harsh stares. Let us be softness and kindness and grace to all we encounter. Let us give generously and mercifully in all aspects of our lives. Let us seek first to understand another, rather than make assumptions. Let us be open in the moments of loneliness  and lack to seek the generous voice of the Holy Spirit, the One who longs to demonstrate His Love and reveal His Presence to us. We are deeply loved and cherished, let us remember the One who came, to bring life abundant, to feed the hungry and satisfy our souls.

This Comfortable Perch

In the past month I have had two quite debilitating episodes with lower back pain, the kind where I walk as if my tail is tucked between my legs. Once the critical stage is over, I can function in short bouts, for an hour or so at a time, before needing to lie down. I have been able to catch up on a few worthless TV shows, plus finished a book about Martin Luther King Jr’s last year of his life (Death of a King by Tavis Smiley). I finally visited a local, well-respected physical therapist yesterday. I thought he was going to say something like, “Running is damaging to the body, you need to find other forms of exercise.” Or something else that would threaten my love for pounding out my problems on the road. Nope. He inquired about my couches and didn’t need to ask any more..I immediately understood. My down-filled couches are deep, fluffy, cozy and horrible for my posture.  Who knew one could develop a bulging disc from being too comfortable?

What other crucial parts of my life are damaged or injured because of my comfort? My relationships? My spiritual life? My learning? Friendships? My ability to honestly see myself?

What am I afraid of?

Over the past month, since the Ferguson grand jury reported they would not seek an indictment in Michael Brown’s death, I have been Twitter-crazed, scouring constantly for information  about what it must be like to live as an oppressed individual in this nation of ours. We stand by while people in power are not held accountable in hundreds of deaths each year. And maybe this power, for any and all of us, needs to be held with great fear and trembling.

The question remains, what damage is my comfort as a white suburban, Christian causing to the very fabric of my home, my community, my nation? And, the greater question: what power do have to shine a light on the oppressed and misunderstood folks in my own backyard? How do my choices and actions (or lack thereof) contribute to a deeper attempt to understand another?

I have no idea what it’s like to be a young black man in America.

I have no idea what it’s like to be homeless.

I have no idea what it’s like to be elderly.

I have no idea what it’s like to be transgender.

I have no idea what it’s like to be depressed or have serious mental illness.

I have no idea what it’s like to be obese.

I have no idea what it’s like to be chronically ill or have a chronically ill family member.

I have no idea what it’s like to be hungry.

I have no idea what it’s like to to suffer grave injustices in a foreign land and come to America, only to be cast aside and told to go home.

I have no idea what it’s like to be gay.

We each have a serious responsibility.  To learn. To ask questions. To place ourselves in someone else’s shoes for a moment, a day, a year, a lifetime. I have been on the receiving end of someone else’s stereotype. It feels wrong and frankly, kinda creepy to have assumptions made about me by someone who doesn’t know me. Imagine what it must be to have your entire existence scrutinized. This imagining? It’s called empathy. Empathy then breeds compassion, and compassion, love. True love…that thing we are called to above all else is our work. Those of us fortunate enough to only experience a shadow of living oppressed or misunderstood, let us take our comfort and challenge it a bit each day. Let us recognize the gifts we’ve been given and that not all are gifted the same. Let us use our individual and collective power to stand for those who have little, if any.

I am moving towards discomfort, towards not having answers, towards learning and remaining quiet..unless I want to ask a question. I am moving towards freedom from fear, where I can humbly approach another person, genuinely inquiring about what it must be like to be them. I want to not have to know everything, from my privileged perch…but to sink down and rely upon the perspective and beauty of another who must fight each and every day to be considered fully human.

Let us not rest in our comfort…for too long, anyway.