Just Breathe

Life is full of demands. It seems like something or someone always wants our time, our energy, our focus. Work. Family. Kids. Health. Friends. Interests. Causes. My list of things to do, people to see, books to read, miles to run, events to attend is never-ending.

I can’t place all of the blame on culture, society, or even on my list. I am the master of my list, nothing is on it unless I put it there. Saying “no” may not be comfortable, but it is a necessary skill if I am to keep my sanity. So from time to time, I decline. I make space. I push back against the tide of demands.

And just breathe.

There are ads everywhere telling you all of the things you cannot live without, and needs surrounding on every side screaming that they cannot live without you. In the end, though, the one and only thing that is absolutely necessary every minute of the day is to fill your lungs with air and blow it back out again.

Just breathe.

Do you know that breathing not only takes vital oxygen to your cells, but it massages your internal organs and sends chemical signals that affect your adrenaline production? Short and fast breaths are part of your fight or flight emergency system. Slow, deep, full breaths can bring calmness and a sense of well-being even in the middle of a stress-filled moment.

Breathe.

Fill your lungs with air that presses to the bottom of your capacity, that stretches the space between your ribs both front and back, that causes your spine to align and your posture to straighten. You can’t take a deep, full breath when you are hunched over. Breathing supports life and health in so many ways.

So breathe in with your body in a neutral position, feet shoulder width apart whether you are sitting or standing. Let the breath carry your heart high, let your belly melt down and out. Press your breath into your rib space and find more room under your shoulder blades.

And exhale. Breathe in deep, and blow out the air like a balloon. Pull your belly button in toward your spine and use your diaphragm to squeeze all the air out of your lungs, then relax and let them fill again.

Close your eyes and let yourself just breathe for a minute or two and you will find your mind clearer, your body more invigorated, your posture straighter, your mood improved.

Just Breathe.

ReFreshing

Two miles

It isn’t a secret that I am a Jesus nerd. I geek out over Bible study in parallel translations with the original Greek on the side. I love the historical context and theological minutia that would put some people to sleep. But I have this one, little problem.

I don’t like it when Jesus says something that doesn’t fit with my view of the world. It makes me uncomfortable, and I am left wondering if there are any loopholes I can wiggle through.

This isn’t really such a little problem, though, because Jesus is always saying things that rub me the wrong way.

Like “If someone strikes you on one cheek, offer them the other.” I wouldn’t mind if Jesus said we shouldn’t hit back, I understand that, but invite them to hit me again?

Also, “If someone sues you for your shirt, give them your coat as well.” And then I’ll be naked, Jesus, what about that?

Then there’s “If someone forces you to go with them one mile, go with them two.” So I should just give way to coercion? Won’t that just encourage them?

Maybe he wasn’t serious, though. Right?

Or maybe he was.

Jesus was not just a religious teacher who said one thing and did another; he practiced what he preached. Jesus was struck, spit upon, had his beard pulled out, carried the instrument of his death, saw his clothing go to the winner as soldiers gambled at the foot of his cross.

So I guess he really meant what he said.

In a time and place where these scenarios were not speculative, but very real, Jesus was teaching his followers that it is far better to be persecuted than to be the persecutor. The Apostle Paul echoed from his exposure to Jesus’s teachings, “Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?” than to participate in systems of worldly oppression. It is far better to be cheated than the one who cheats. It is far better to stand naked on the street after a forced two mile hike, with both cheeks stinging than to be the one exercising position and power for selfish gain.

These things are hard for me. It is not easy to think of giving up my rights, I am after all an American. I am accustomed to fighting for my rights, to standing up for my rights. Laying them down is counter to my secular culture, and in many ways my church culture. You won’t find many churches or even individual believers lately who have rejoiced when they feel their rights threatened. This isn’t a scathing attack, the response is very human. The problem is that it is not very Christ-like.

What is it that will change our minds, our hearts, our instincts so that we line up with Jesus’s teachings? Practice. I wish there was a magic wand, but it seems the only way we accustom ourselves to the ways of the kingdom is to practice what we preach.

When your rights are threatened, go beyond refusing to threaten in return, go the extra mile.

Consistency in the face of difficulty.
ReFreshing

 

On Bad Days

Sometimes I have a bad day. I know, amazing, but true. It doesn’t even have to be a big deal, like flood, fire, or famine, to get me feeling off-kilter. Sometimes it is a passion I have that doesn’t seem to be shared. Sometimes it is injustice. Sometimes I just feel tired, and sad, and frustrated.DSC01706

And I’m learning that this is ok.

I fall into that category of people who cope by stuffing emotions deep down inside. Truthfully, emotions are powerful and sometimes that power feels dangerous. Letting emotions out can seem like a lack of control or a loss of the ability to process through things logically. Coping mechanisms are great for life or death situations, but most of my life doesn’t take place on a literal battlefield.20150810_085430

As a positive, the ability to set aside emotion for a time to handle crises with a cool head is awesome. I have kept my cool while driving loved ones to the hospital. I have faced down angry people who would have only fed on any emotional energy I allowed to escape. I have been able to get through some tough personal and professional challenges without falling apart. My coping skills are great.

But when we function in non-emergent situations like they are life or death, when we walk through life on high alert, our coping skills become barriers that keep others at bay. If I shut down my emotions, it can take some time to open back up to process them. If I walk around without feeling while interacting with my kids, or my husband, or the people I am in ministry with, I become a hard stone wall. Inflexible.

Vulnerability is crucial to building relationships and community. If I can’t open up about my experiences, my feelings, my needs, then no one ever gets to know the real me. I have walled myself off from anyone who could help me build other skills or who have their own wisdom to contribute to the challenges I face.DSC01422

Giving myself permission to feel–even on bad days–is my key to unlocking the gates, and bringing down the walls.

I am not perfect. (Another blog for another day!) I need other people to walk through life. Defenses are great when you are under attack, but for all of the other situations I face on all the other days, those walls just get in the way.

Truth & Honesty.
Now that’s ReFreshing.

One Day at a Time!

SO, my house is going to be open for Christmas Day, we are hosting a dinner at 2pm for any of our local friends who don’t have family gatherings to attend. We want to build community and spread the love and joy we feel at the holidays.

This sounds super, right?

Right!

But my house is not company ready. It is only company ready when we have company. It isn’t like that all year long. I know this is shocking. Take a deep breath and blow out all those shattered expectations. I’ll wait.

Now that we are all in reality, here is my trouble. Normally, procrastinator girl would take over and we would hang out in denial city until THursday, Wednesday at the earliest. This would for sure bring on an avalanche of PANIC! And rapid cleaning.

It would get done, but I would be frazzled and fried for Christmas.

Here’s my plan. Today I cleaned my stove. I scrubbed the top. I took down the spice rack. I wiped greasy dust off the nick-knacks and thew away the wooden salt and pepper grinders that I never use anyway. I put new drip bowls in and threw away the old ones.

I was ruthless.

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Ruthlessness is part of my plan.

Every day this week, I will ruthlessly attack one (or more) messy, ridiculous, evil-clutter-filled spaces. I will clean them. They will stay clean, at least until after Christmas.

This is a doable plan. If I were to, say, plan to keep every one of those spaces clean next year as a New Year’s resolution, that would be terrible folly. But one week, we can do one week.

I hope.

So, I am recruiting fellow house cleaning procrastinators to join me on a glorious quest to have a clean house (cleaner house? clean-ish house? sane house?) for Christmas this year. Maybe it won’t bring peace on earth, but let’s face it we aren’t the messiah.

One thing every day.

Potentially, very ReFreshing!

My Areas to tackle:
Kitchen to Dining Room Pass Through CounterCube Shelf where Everyone has a Bin
Desk & Office Room
Under the Couches
Tables in Living Room
Stairway & Hallway
Counters & Top of Fridge
Bonus: Bathroom Decluttering (We’ll see if this one gets done)

Give and Take in Relationships

A friend asked a good question on social media a few weeks back and I have been chewing on it ever since. She was musing about give and take in intimate relationships and from her original query, I have derived a few clarifying questions of my own. My attempts at answering these questions are by no means prescriptive, just my own thoughts on how to achieve balance in long term relationships whether friendships, family relationships, or spousal relationships. In this four-part series, we’ll explore questions of needs and rights, power and control, communication, and setting boundaries.

How do we balance the needs of each individual with the rights of the other?

It is only human nature to want our own way. Ask anyone over the age of 2 and they will tell you the response to not getting their way is pretty much the same, at least on the inside. Not all of us throw ourselves on the floor to kick and scream, but whether we are conscious of it or not feeling deprived (and avoiding that feeling) fuels many of our interactions with those around us.

Here is the problem with balance: it requires us to intentionally experience deprivation on behalf of someone else. We can’t always do that cheerfully. I’m not sure it is necessary to embrace it cheerfully. What is necessary is making that choice to set aside our desire to get what we want and avoid feeling deprived so that the other can feel fulfilled. In order for balance to be achieved, all parties must be actively engaged in this practice.

Photo by dlnny

Photo by dlnny

Here is a second problem with balance: you can only control your own actions. It is impossible to require someone to sacrifice for you, no matter how small. You can only choose to engage the practice of self-denial yourself. Which means it is risky. Which means it is scary. Which means we don’t often want to be the first one to give.

Our most vital right as human beings is to make our own decisions. No one can force something upon another without violating that right, whether the method is physical force or psychological manipulation. This is the right that must be balanced with the need of the other in a relationship. If you or your partner sacrifice without making the choice freely, that right is violated.

Sacrifice can be a beautiful thing, but only if it comes from a place of love and care. Forced sacrifice only damages relationships. It leads to bitterness in the least and hatred at the most extreme. This is why the key to finding balance is open, honest communication linked with freedom for each one to make their own decision.

Photo by rachelg

Photo by rachelg

The initial step towards this balance is achieved by agreeing in conversation to form (or reform) your relationship around this principle. Make a pact. Promise that when it is really important for fulfilling the other person’s needs, you will find a way to compromise or sacrifice to make it happen. BUT since it is only balance when it goes both ways everyone MUST commit to communicate those things that they believe are necessary for their fulfillment. Otherwise it comes down to guesswork, and not being good mind-readers, most people stink at relational guesswork.

The classic example of self-denial is the story The Gift of the Magi where both husband and wife give up their most prized possessions in order to give a gift to the other. Whether you find that the gestures were wasted or not, we can observe both proving by their actions that the relationship and the other person were more important than any object they possessed. The sacrifice is beautiful because neither choice was manipulated or forced, each one chose of their own free will to demonstrate their love to each other in this way.

Watch for the next post: How do we set aside models of power and control for models of love and service?

Hitting Refresh on Sabbath Keeping

Life is full of pressure to succeed, to make a difference, to prove our worth. We spend all our time blazing from project to project, activity to activity. There isn’t a moment to lose, not a minute to pause. As a culture, we are overworked, under rested, and over scheduled. We can’t catch a breath.

Most of us get two days off from work each week, but we rarely spend them resting. Even when we try to relax, we feel that we have to DO something. We fill our weekends with hiking, sports, home improvement, church activities, meditation classes. We find it difficult to just sit, to rest, to simply BE.

There is an ancient practice that answers this problem, but it is often misunderstood and gets a bad rap: Sabbath. Growing up, sabbath-keeping was presented as a legalistic practice that often got in the way of people’s needs. If the grass needed cut or the milk was running low, you were obligated to wait until the next day. There were watchdogs keeping score, and sabbath-keeping became another way to prove to God and others that we were good enough. A practice meant to bring refreshment became an obligation filled with anxiety, done without any intentional thought toward its implications.

Today, I have come to see the practice of sabbath-keeping as one of the greatest blessings that God has given to humankind. Through it, the divine screams to our hearts and souls, “You are worth more than all of this.” You are worth more than the balance of your bank account. You are worth more than the things you build, the time on your stopwatch, the number of friends on your contact list. These things are valuable, but you are worth more!

Sabbath rest removes the drive to be productive and reminds us of our value as part of God’s creation. Like the brushstrokes in Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night, our presence in that masterpiece is value enough. We lose sight of this when we spend all of our time trying to justify our existence to the world around us. It bleeds into our relating to God, and we wind up trying to convince Vincent of the value of his own brushstrokes.

God sets the example of taking sabbath rest for us in the story of creation. Working six days, then resting on the seventh. You can argue about what day that is supposed to be, but most likely we have no idea on which day of the week God took the first sabbath. Pick one for yourself. There are all kinds of rules surrounding sabbath-keeping, and they vary from group to group. Don’t get bogged down in the nitty-gritty, Jesus reminds us that God made the sabbath for the benefit of mankind, not mankind to serve the sabbath (Mark 2). Stick to the basics, and allow the Holy Spirit to guide your individual practice.

The principles of sabbath-keeping are these: disengaging from the rat race, setting aside time to cease pursuing both profit and products, resting in a trust that God’s work is bigger than us. Eugene Peterson talks about wasting time with God, and finding the time is not wasted at all. Some of my favorite Bible passages tell us that God is at work when we sleep. Taking a time-out from earning and buying and producing reminds us that the world does not stop spinning when we take a break. It allows us to reset our system of thinking and acting. Instead of acting from a desperation to prove our worth, we begin to live out of a confidence in our worth that goes beyond our market value.

Resting to remind us of our intrinsic worth, how Refreshing!

Top 5 things that make me go…Aargh!

At Refreshing Life I try to maintain an upbeat and positive theme. Today, after much consideration, I have chosen to post about frustrating things I encounter in life. I hope that this gives you permission to talk about the things that bug you in a safe space, to chew on why they trouble you and maybe find a solution.

Here they are, my top 5 annoyances this week:

Being Anti-
I am so over “anti” attitudes. Between politics, religion, ecology, and even grammar sometimes, it can be difficult to nail some people down on what they are for these days. Everyone is so vocal about what they are against, it almost seems that being for something is passé. Well, I want to bring it back. Be FOR something, not against. If we can express the reasons why someone should support our cause, instead of the reasons why others are wrong, we might just find that people will listen. It will make for friendlier conversation anyway, and that would be a huge improvement. (I realize the irony. This post is very anti in nature, but at least I try to follow with the positive alternative.)

Photoshopped Models
I’m not against models, I think they are beautiful and can be very strong men and women with complex personalities, just like the rest of us. What makes me say “Aargh!” though is when even these beauties are deemed not good enough, and their images subjected to ridiculous photoshopping to make them thinner, more symmetrical, with longer necks and bigger eyes. It is insulting to them, and it continues to present us with a completely unattainable standard of beauty. If models aren’t good enough for public consumption, heaven help the rest of us. Thankfully, some companies are getting a hint and starting campaigns with real people. (Check out Elle, American Eagle, and Dove)

False Self-Criticism
You know what I’m talking about, when people make comments about themselves that are negative so that others will tell them they are wrong and shower them with compliments. I know sometimes it is hard to see our own worth, and sometimes we are too self-critical. What bugs me is not the honest low self-image, but the fake low self-image. How can you tell the difference? When you say, “Oh, I am so fat.” then wait for someone to say differently. When a friend says, “I only had time to bake fresh bread twice this week, I am such a bad mother.” Seriously makes me want to roll my eyes and groan. Instead, how about we express what we need. “I am feeling insecure, and need to hear that I look good.” “I am feeling unappreciated, and would like some acknowledgment for being the most super-awesome mom on the planet.” At least we would be honest, and then others wouldn’t have to guess at what we want from them.

Not Getting What I Paid For
Shopping drives me up the wall. I am not a retail-therapy kind of girl. I like to buy well and seldom. Shopping for some socks for my girls last week, I bought a package of socks in their size that seemed to be on clearance because it was the last of its kind. We got them home, washed them and put them away. The first day of new socks was fine, then the next day one girl said they were too small. The following day, the “pair” of socks wasn’t even the same size. I know, first world problem. It drives me crazy that what invariably happened was that someone took them home, discovered the issue of size variety, brought them back and the store PUT THEM BACK ON THE SHELF! Aargh! Seriously. I know that I have responsibilities as a consumer, but what happened to the responsibilities of the seller? Next time, I will buy on Amazon so that I can at least give the seller a bad review.

No Self-Criticism
Ok, last gripe of the day. If there is anything worse than false self-criticism, it is the utter absence of the ability to evaluate one’s own behavior/life choices/attitudes. When any difficulty in life is someone else’s fault, when a person is never in the wrong, when apologies are always expected and never offered there is a serious problem. Usually, it means a serious problem for other people since they usually are left picking up the pieces. The solution here is personal responsibility and a willingness to be wrong. On the side of those left cleaning up the mess, perhaps allowing the consequences to be on the shoulders of the one who created the mess. It isn’t always possible, but guaranteed that if we enable them, they will never learn.

There they are, my frustrations of the week. What are yours? Feel free to share, vent, discuss, and otherwise express yourself in the comments or with someone you trust.

Getting the frustrations out there, how refreshing!