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

Set Apart

It’s Holy Week and that leaves me pondering holiness.

To be holy is to be set apart for a singular sacred purpose.

With the way that everything is so mixed up and messy in our lives, what really remains dedicated to a singular purpose let alone a sacred one?

I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time even dedicating my attention to a singular purpose. I don’t think I recall anything I completed this week while doing absolutely nothing else. My time, attention, and life are full of multi-tasking to the point that I wonder if I have a bit of a distraction addiction. (While I am typing this, I have Netflix streaming in another window.)

In the middle of all this distraction and busyness, though, part of me longs for holiness. I long for a singular dedicated purpose that is set apart from the daily grind. I long for a deeper connection that brings fulfillment and peace. This requires a whole-hearted devotion–turning over my priorities and letting them be reshaped by a higher agenda. Even when that agenda is love, joy, and peace, I resist. It is easier to redefine the term, and turn holiness into a list of things to do and do not.

What is meant to be a life-giving turns into a dead set of practices.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

God is always issuing an open invitation to find rest in him, but it is not always easy to respond. I have my list-making habit to lay aside. My list of things that, once finished, will make me worthy. My list of things that, once finished, will impress others. My list of things that, once finished, will mean that my children will not grow up dysfunctional, and my husband will never leave, and my church community will grow exponentially…

The truth is that my lists are long and impossible. I will never finish them, and if I wait until I prove myself worthy, I will never begin to pursue the Holy.

And besides, God never waited for anyone to attain perfection before knocking on their door. Read any story in the Bible and you will find desperately flawed people going about their daily lives when a holy God shows up. The reason their stories are in the book is that they accepted his invitation to live with a new, sacred purpose.

I can hear God knocking.

I think I will say yes. Flawed as I am. Distracted as I seem to be. I will take time–even just a few minutes–to seek the One who is able to produce holiness in me.

Now that’s ReFreshing.

 

5 Ways to Stay Grounded at Christmas

It is so hard to find a moment to breathe in the middle of this season. Shopping, events, travel all compete with our regularly scheduled calendars. How do we find the center? Where do we draw the energy to make it through the holidays, not just surviving but joyful?

Faith that brings Peace

Faith is a journey that begins for many with a recognition of the beauty of the story. The story that God made humanity in his image. The story that God wants to know and be known by his creation. The story that we can encounter the God of the universe because God keeps reaching out to us. The story of Christmas is that God stepped out of eternity and lived in human flesh.

It is a story of connection and restoration. It is a story of hope in the darkest times. It is a story that is meant to bring peace to our hearts.

Love that brings Equality

Love is the key. Love looks beyond labels and social stigma to see the spark of divine image that burns in each soul. Love unwraps the anxiety, the dark moods, the ill-humor that clothes the wounded heart to see the beauty within. Love nurtures the good, illuminates the positive, and gently clears away the grime so that healing can begin.

This is how I want to be loved, how we all long to be loved. This is the love we must offer at Christmas.

Community that shapes Identity

We are all individuals, but we all need others as well. We find out who we are by what is reflected back to us in the faces of those who love us. In our families, our parents first show us that we are priceless as they gaze at our newborn wrinkly faces with joy. In our friendships, we hear how great we sing, or how fast we run, or how we are good listeners. In our grown-up lives, it can be hard to find good reflectors, but the need is still there. Find your community, or begin to create one by offering your friendship to others.

Joining together with others in shared friendship and love brings support in hard times and people to celebrate in good times.

Contributing in ways that demonstrate Integrity

It is easy to drop a quarter in a red kettle and feel we have done our part. When we take a moment to reflect, we may find that it falls short of what we value and cherish. Ask yourself what it is that you long to see flourish in the world around you. Is it justice, peace, plenty for everyone? Look for a way to contribute that builds those values. Send a letter to a soldier. Spend an hour at a peace vigil. Serve by wrapping toys for kids in need.

Giving in a way that aligns with your heart brings joy and energizes your soul.

Rest that comes from choosing Simplicity

Your life cannot be measured by how busy your schedule is or how full your closet is no matter what our culture of exhaustion may promote. You are more than your overtime, your toys, and your (or your kids) activities. It is great for life to be full in a way that brings richness. If your schedule is sucking the life out of you, it is time to simplify. If your stuff is overwhelming you, it is time to simplify. Create space in your schedule, carve out some empty time and then don’t fill it. Clear out a drawer or shelf or closet in your house, and then don’t fill it. We could all use more empty space, less to worry about or keep track of and maintain.

Trusting, connecting, giving, resting, all ways to stay sane any time of year.

Staying Grounded at Christmas, now that is ReFreshing!

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!

Unexpected

Hours roll by without a break. Meetings, flow charts, spread sheets overwhelm her schedule.

“Just one moment of peace, please,” she screams internally to no one in particular.

Stuck.

Traffic jammed up for miles before and behind.

Smile twitching the corner of her mouth.

Unbusy at last.

Someone was listening.

Part of the 50 Word Challenge:
http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2014/04/07/writing-challenge-fifty/

Snowy Days

After 8 inches of snow fell in our town earlier this week, we have enjoyed two gloriously lazy snow days.

At first I contemplated all of the projects we could complete since we would have all of the members of the family at home with no agenda. Ah, the clutter and bins and boxes that could be sorted. Oh, the purging and cleaning and re-arranging we could accomplish. But then on the first morning of our snow-cation I realized what a gift it could be just to hang out as a family.

With our schedules being so hectic, overlapping with work and school and more work and sprinkled with activities, a day or two of rest were just what the doctor ordered.

Instead of sorting, I hooked my 10-year-old on the Anne of Green Gables movie series. 

Instead of scrubbing, we sat at the table and discussed our favorite things about snow days.

The girls have played. The toddler has relished having the attention of sisters and both parents. It has been great.

And, in the end, we have actually done some scrubbing. It may not be what I originally dreamed, but it’s enough to keep us moving in the right direction. All in all it has been a blessing of rest and relaxation. To think, I almost missed it by filling it with extra projects!

I hope you find some unexpected refreshment this week!

Resting

A friend shared an article with me yesterday about states that are removing laws which protected workers from having to work 7+ days in a row without a day off. This seems counterproductive and flies in the face of several studies that show resting is beneficial for productivity and profitability. We need to stick up for the rights of those workers who are in very real physical danger when working heavy machinery on too little sleep.

Fighting the system may feel like a herculean task, but there are many ways in which you can fight the systematic fatigue in your own life. First we need to remember what rest is: a cessation of work. This can include everything from doing absolutely nothing for a few minutes to napping, practicing yoga, or engaging in a fun and playful activity. What is restful for one person may not be restful for another. We need to identify what is restful, and what is possible, in our own contexts. This takes some real life experimentation if we are out of practice.

If you read all day at work, picking up a book may not be the most restful activity for you. If you are an introvert and engage with people all day at work, going out to a club may not be restful at all. For some people, knitting is a zen-like practice, for me it is torture!

I take a day off every week, and it is a constant battle not to fill it with all of the household things that got put off on other days. I work from home most days, so I try to get out of the house. My husband and I go for coffee and browse in the local shops. I go for a run or take a walk. I read a book that has nothing to do with my job as a pastor. I may sew or crochet, or bake something yummy. This is what works for me.

What works for you?

If you can’t answer, put finding out on your to-do list. Refreshing life is the reward!

For more on Rest and Real Life:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/10/opinion/sunday/relax-youll-be-more-productive.html?pagewanted=1&_r=0

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/tracking-wonder/201204/best-rest-practices-optimal-productivity-and-creativity