For All These Things, We Give Thee THANKS!

It is SUPER early on Thanksgiving morning.  I’ve actually been awake since 3:00 am (thank you, puppy), and have since scrolled through Facebook, sent some work emails and messages (I know, shame on me), and have read through a Litany of Thanksgiving.

In the Episcopal (or Anglican, depending on which continent you live) Church, worship services are dictated by rubrics and pre-written prayers and responses.  I grew up in what was considered a “progressive, spontaneous” denomination, and for the most part, prayers were personally developed and not prescribed.  As a middle-aged gal, although sometimes the structure of the liturgy can be boring, it also provides a centering point, being that the worship service is not about me.  Those pre-written prayers have often forced me to consider things and contemplate God in a way I wouldn’t on my own.

So here it is, the Litany of Thanksgiving…with my own little touches here and there (because progressive and spontaneous, right?):

Let us give thanks to God our Father for all his gifts so
freely bestowed upon us.

Every good and perfect gift comes to us from the Father of lights…have you ever considered just how gracious God has been with you, for all the amazing and sustaining gifts and blessings He’s bestowed?  I’ve been participating in the 30 Days of Gratitude challenge on Facebook, which has so powerfully helped me to acknowledge just how good my Heavenly Father has been to me – from the simple things like a new puppy to a fantastic house in which to live to meaningful work…all comes from His hand.

For the beauty and wonder of your creation, in earth and
sky and sea.
We thank you, Lord.

The last few days in Baker have been amazingly warm and temperate for this time of year…what we thought would be an early onset winter, complete with ice and snow and plows and chains, has turned out to be a lovely fall.  I have so enjoyed not totally bundling up every day, and not freezing all day long.  But even when the days turn frigid and I long for the warmth of spring, I have to remember that God set in motion the seasons, gave us day and night, seeded the earth with all forms of beautiful and often entertaining life (just watch my pets in action!), and called it all good.

For all that is gracious in the lives of men and women,
revealing the image of Christ,
We thank you, Lord.

“I see Jesus in you, I see Jesus in you; in your eyes, and all that you do, I see Jesus in you.”  I have so many dear ones in my life about whom I can sing that…too long to list…how about you?  When was the last time you looked at your spouse/sibling/parent/friend and recognized the light and image of Christ in them?

For our daily food and drink, our homes and families, and
our friends,
We thank you, Lord.

Today I’m not preparing a huge Thanksgiving meal, for which I am utterly grateful; we are blessed to be able to go out and pay someone else to feed us.  As I write this, I’m sitting in a gorgeous old home that I love, knowing that my husband is upstairs (wondering why on earth his wife is not in bed with him – he’s not much for insomnia). I have a list of friends and family to whom I will send a “Happy Thanksgiving” message to in just a few minutes, people that I know I can turn to in times of joy and sorrow, people that surround me with love and prayer and share my laughter and my tears.  But I have to think, too, of those who don’t share that experience – I should never, never, NEVER whine – about anything; I am far too blessed.

For minds to think, and hearts to love, and hands to serve,
We thank you, Lord.

Does it ever strike you funny that God entrusts His work to us?  That He has placed within our minds the capability to plan and create and implement; places us in networks of people who rely on us for not only physical, but emotional and spiritual support; and opens doors of opportunities to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the World?  “You’re the only Jesus some will ever see, you’re the only words of life some will ever read” (The Imperials).  What an amazing amount of trust we have been given…

For health and strength to work, and leisure to rest and play,
We thank you, Lord.

I get up every morning, before the the sun, on work days and days off, and start a long list of to-dos.  Some are enjoyable, some are tedious.  Regardless, I rarely have to take a sick day and I am still, even in middle-age, amazingly strong and capable.  It is a wonder, and I am so thankful.

For the brave and courageous, who are patient in suffering
and faithful in adversity,
We thank you, Lord.

At the same time, so many go through their days with difficulty.  I used to work in Child Welfare – talk about patient in suffering.  First responders, social workers, medical personnel, our military…day in and day out of YUCK.  Yet we wouldn’t have a functional society without their dedication.  I think I’m going to go hug my veteran…

 
For all valiant seekers after truth, liberty, and justice,
We thank you, Lord.

I hope we’re all valiant seekers after truth, liberty, and justice.  Today, take a few moments to think about how you can promote these things in your own little corner of the world.  And thank your spiritual leader(s) the next time you see him/her/them.  It’s sometimes quite exhausting to search the Scriptures and exhort the flock of Christ to better things…
For the communion of saints, in all times and places,
We thank you, Lord.

The communion of saints – living and dead.  I am surrounded by saints on earth and know that those who have gone before continue to surround me with prayer and encouragement, encircling me with a cloud of witness that strengthens me to run my earthly race.

 
Above all, we give you thanks for the great mercies and
promises given to us in Christ Jesus our Lord;

My husband – God bless him! – often gets on my for not giving him time to answer the question I just asked before asking another one, or completing the task I requested before hounding him about it (I really am quite the nag when left unchecked). Just the other day I was reading in Lamentations, written by Jeremiah, “the weeping prophet.”  In the middle of all that doom and gloom, I came across this:  “It is good that a man (or woman, or child, or anyone) should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord” (Lamentations 3:26).  That really convicted me – I am so unwilling to “hope and quietly wait” for Jesus to fulfill His promises – I want everything RIGHT. NOW.  So I made my own little covenant, in that moment:

Lamentations

(If you don’t keep a Scripture and devotional journal…try visiting The Holy Mess for some great ideas and even a free kit!  It’s not what I use, but Sara has some great tools for making your studies exciting and personally relevant!)

To him be praise and glory, with you, O Father, and the
Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.

AMEN!  Happy Thanksgiving!

Ladies…Stop Breaking the Hearts of Your Tender Husbands!

 

Not too long ago – a month, maybe? – I read an article by fellow blogger, Greg Trimble. That article was Dudes… Stop Breaking the Hearts of Your Tender Wives.  As I was scrolling through a motley variety of comments, I saw one that I just couldn’t resist: some well-meaning brother commented that Mr. Trimble should write a companion post, Chicks…Stop Breaking the Hearts of Your Tender Husbands.  Mr. Trimble, in turn, said he would leave that for a woman to write.

Someone told me recently that I tend to take on too much. She was right. But I couldn’t help it.  I thought, I can write that!  I responded on that comment stream, “I’ll do it!”  And Mr. Trimble said, “More power to ya!”  Or something thereabouts.  And excited little ol’ me opened up my computer to go and…

…nothing.  This overly verbose, educated, experienced woman who always has something to say about absolutely everything was at a loss for words.  Not that I don’t know how a tender husband’s heart is broken; I know far too well.  Not only have I broken his heart multiple times using all the tried-and-true methods, I may have invented some.  But for some reason, nothing eloquent landed on the screen.  I was a total blank.  This girl would obviously not be preaching about anything.

So I’ve been on sitting this for about a month, waiting for inspiration, the right words, the persuasive tone and charming syntax that people enjoy about me.  Not a normal situation for me; I can address anything at anytime and really quite bamboozle people with my words.  And I have a lot to say!  So when I can’t say it, I become super frustrated.

Late yesterday afternoon, as the heat was finally a bit more tolerable, I took a walk.  Going down our charming little riverwalk led me to the newly installed labyrinth in our community.  If you’ve never walked a labyrinth, give it a try; it’s a great way to calm your thoughts, be mindful and centered, and find some mental peace and quiet in the midst of the normal clutter and chaos of daily thinking.

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Baker City’s new labyrinth!  Thanks to the local community members who made it possible!

As I slowly paced myself around the intricate path of the labyrinth, I did find myself thinking about this subject, and wondering what I could say that would dazzle and inspire and help women to truly be better partners, companions, helpmeets to those tender husbands (who really just need to pull up their big boy pants, right?).  I could talk about avoiding emotional affairs, or not making them responsible for our personal well-being, or I could quote Proverbs 31 (I hate that woman sometimes) about seeing to the needs of our family, or 1 Peter about having a gentle, quiet spirit.  I could harp on the need to be respectful and deferential, submissive and obedient, “as unto the Lord.”  I could talk about how we, more often than we like to admit, use sex not as a point of intimacy and bonding, but as reward, punishment, and manipulation.

I’d actually planned to write a litany of how I had, as I mentioned above, broken my husband’s heart, time and time and time again, in the ways I just mentioned and then some.

But as I walked that labyrinth, I started thinking about Namaste.  For those of you not caught up in the yoga community (another post for another time), namaste is a Sanskrit term that has become as overused, misused, and even abused in contemporary culture.  Its literal translation is I bow to you.  My yoga teacher interprets that as, “The Divine within me recognizes and honors the Divine within you.”  And as I walked, I realized that we break his heart when we fail to recognize his divinity.  No matter how we do it – and, ladies, we all know just how to best break our tender husbands’ hearts, don’t we? – we do it because we stop seeing the divine within him.

If I, as his wife, am always mindful that yes, there is a divine, immortal being wrapped up in that suit of flesh – a suit that is, yes, aging, and tired, and hungry, and grumpy at times, and prone to misread my own intentions…if I, as his wife, am mindful of the fact that he is a son of God – as much as I am a daughter of God, I am going to be far more careful to, as our Savior reminded us, do unto him as I would have him do unto me:

  • Do I want him to put me before his job? Maybe that load of laundry can wait.
  • Do I want him to trust me to do what I say I will do?  Turn off the nagging.
  • Do I want him to confide in me his deepest, darkest secrets, his griefs, his frustrations?  Confide in him before you call your girlfriend.
  • Do I want him to praise me to his friends?  Cut the trash talk.
  • Do I want him to overlook the times I fail?  Forgive and forget and always extend grace.
  • Do I want him to see and treat me as a goddess (metaphorically or literally – no matter)?  It’s a two-way street, honey.

Every successful human relationship comes down to implementing that Golden Rule, and marriage is the absolutely most important relationship anyone can have.  But familiarity so often breeds contempt, and quite often, our husbands get the short end of that stick.  And because marriage is, as our rings symbolize, a circle, we get what we give…and, if we don’t give, we don’t get.

My marriage nearly ended a few years ago because I didn’t recognize my tender husband as a son of God, and thus, the heartbreaking I had inflicted on him over the years had very nearly destroyed me. I can’t help but think that maybe that’s why he, himself, once a vibrant and glorious witness to the Savior, is no longer.  But because God’s tender mercies are so infinitely glorious and generous and gracious, my sight was restored and my marriage continues to heal.  I now see him as a son of God, as beloved as Jesus Christ Himself, and every day I pray that my love for, and words and actions toward him would cause him to see the light of Christ within me and, once again, within himself.

Ask yourself this: when you look at your tender husband (and, for all their macho bravado, they really are tender), who do you see?

First Step on a New Journey

I read the other day that, in the age of Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, social media venues that have launched a whole new “selfie” industry, our society is breeding more and more narcissists.  Wikipedia, that font of all knowledge, tells the story of a young man named Narcissus:

800px-Narcissus-Caravaggio_(1594-96)_edited

“In Greek mythology, Narcissus (/nɑːrˈsɪsəs/; Greek: ΝάρκισσοςNárkissos) was a hunter from Thespiae in Boeotia who was known for his beauty. He was the son of the river god Cephissus and nymph Liriope.  He was proud, in that he disdained those who loved him. Nemesis noticed this behavior and attracted Narcissus to a pool, where he saw his own reflection in the water and fell in love with it, not realizing it was merely an image. Unable to leave the beauty of his reflection, Narcissus lost his will to live. He stared at his reflection until he died. Narcissus is the origin of the term narcissism, a fixation with oneself and one’s physical appearance and/or public perception” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narcissus_(mythology)).

Having been a social worker, clinical and otherwise, I can professionally attest that to be diagnosed a narcissist takes a lot – and I mean a lot – more than being obsessed with one’s physical appearance and/or public perception.  When I left social work, I gave away my DSM (diagnostic manual), so I won’t go any further than that.  But I will say that, as so many others, I do get tired of seeing selfies…

…unless they’re mine.  Oh, I have become a selfie queen.  When I started losing weight 2 years ago, I discovered that I’m kind of cute!  And I really liked seeing my new, thinner self on screen.  Since then, I have mastered the art of manipulating light and angle and facial position to successfully camoflage jowls, multiple chins, and wrinkles.  The power of retouching is harnessed in a cell phone and is mine for the clicking!

My selfies are GORGEOUS…and they hide so much:

  • days when makeup is too much work to deal with
  • moments when my dazzling smile is overwhelmed by stress and tears
  • 30 pounds of weight gain

Yes, I have gained 30 pounds since last September.  That’s roughly three pounds a month, and it’s a whole lot easier to put on than to take off.

This ticks me off, because it had been coming off so easily.  Already being gluten- and caffeine-free, it seemed I could eat anything as long as I hit my bike and kept up with my walking and yoga.

There’s a big difference between 45 and 47, however; we won’t talk about the hormonal shifts that have commenced in just the last few months.  We can talk about being middle-aged and in grad school again, the hours my backside has been stuck to a chair instead of on my bike, the stress of a new position that brought it’s own cortisol-inducing situations, and my growing addiction to SUGAR.

Well.  At least it wasn’t 50.

And, my Heavenly Father, with His inimitable tender mercy, crossed my path with another woman whose midlife looked an awful lot like mine.  As had her waist.  She shared with me what she’d been doing to shed her own midlife baggage, and inspired me to do the same.

My life is, for the most part, an open book, so I’m going to post my Day 1 photos and, every now and again, I’ll share how my journey to optimal health is going.  Unlike my myriad of adorable selfies, these photos are raw and uncensored: nothing hidden, nothing retouched – just an honest reflection of the state of this temple, which is now undergoing some serious remodeling and long overdue maintenance.

Here we go – front view:

Front_1_072017
Starting weight: 245.5 pounds.  Still 55 pounds less than my heaviest about 10 years ago, but I certainly don’t want to get any closer to that!

Aaaaaand side view (just breathe!):

Side_1_072017
Starting measurements: waist 40″; hips 52″; bust 44″; neck 16″; calf 18″; thigh 28″; upper arm 16.5″.  Note the jowls and double chin.  They’ll soon be GONE!

I’m 47 years old.  I started my first diet when I was four.  I remember the nurse who told my mother to only let me have one piece of toast, rather than two.  That was the start of my battle against my body.

The body that God Himself crafted for me, I tried to destroy – fad diets, bulimia, overexercise – I tried it all.  And the one time I seemed to be losing weight effortlessly and naturally – two years ago – turned out to be a trauma response.  Life isn’t traumatic anymore, so it came right back.

But something has changed in the last two years, the two years I’ve been nestling into the God who loves me and calls me “daughter”:  I’ve come to truly love myself.

Which is why I can post my fat pictures.  Because even though this temple in which I reside is very unhealthy right now, it is still beautiful because it houses a princess.  It has carried me, sheltered me, protected me [I also won’t go into how fat can be quite the protective mechanism].  It has walked and biked and danced and sang.  It is worthy of my respect and my love.  Not in a narcissistic, obsessive way, but in a let’s-give-you-what-you-need-to-thrive sort of way.  It’s time I gave it that respect, that love in return.

If I hadn’t seen my friend’s Facebook post a few weeks ago, about her own amazing journey to health, I would still be stuck.  As it is, I have taken my first step on my own amazing journey, surrounded by encouraging and inspiring people who walk with me.

What a tender mercy!

 

 

BOOK REVIEW: Radical Spirit

BOOK REVIEW: Radical Spirit

We live in a world of superficiality, a world where Facebook and Instagram and Twitter are flooded with selfies and soundbites, where we communicate in “textese” only as much as our data plan will allow, and where our “race to the top” is a contest to see who can have the biggest (or smallest, if you’re into the tiny house movement), the fastest and newest car, and the funnest vacation.  Parents throw exorbitant Pinterest parties for their toddlers, and “creating fun memories” is on the cover of every family life magazine.  Pleasure and enjoyment has become the end in life, and we slog through our daily lives just to get to the next fun activity.

But the house leaks, the car breaks down, the toddler screams while sitting in a messy diaper, the boss is making work life miserable, and the 4,307 “friends” we have on Facebook aren’t there when the fun ends.  Our personal life planters have beautiful blooms for everyone to see…but when the scorching heat of difficulty and pain bigan baking us, we discover that there is no root system, and everything we think is secure withers and dies.  Our faith, along with everything else, fizzles, and we wonder what the point of it all is.

Sister Joan Chittister, in her inimitable fashion, has the answer.  It’s not a new pop psychology theory, or a 3-step system to self-fulfillment.  No, in her newest book, Radical Spirit, she presents truth that is thousands of years old, and is as generally ignored as it is old.

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What is “radical spirit”?  Both words are so overused and colloquialized in modern language, I decided to look them up.  Based on the primary definitions of each word I found, I translated the title to this: “Thorough Soul”.  That still didn’t satisfy my curiosity, so I followed the word “thorough” back to its Latin roots.  Thorough, from the Latin radicalis, meant in middle English, “forming the root.”  And there I had it: forming the root of the soul.  In our rootless, groundless, modern existence, finding a stable root system for our lives is exactly what we need…and this book delivers.

Based on the Benedictine Rule of Humility (and who better to bring this into the modern era than a modern Benedictine nun?), Sister Chittister walks us through the remarkably radical – that is, countercultural and counterintuitive –Twelve Steps of Humility (strangely similar to the twelve steps of recovery…) established by St. Benedict himself.  She paraphrases the process like this:

  • Recognize that God is God.
  • Know that God’s will is best for you.
  • Seek direction from wisdom figures.
  • Endure the pains of development and do not give up.
  • Acknowledge faults and strip away the masks.
  • Be content with less than the best.
  • Let go of a false sense of self.
  • Preserve tradition and learn from the community.
  • Listen.
  • Never ridicule anyone or anything.
  • Speak kindly.
  • Be serene, stay calm.

In a world that encourages self-promotion and promises reward for climbing to the top, this Rule – based entirely on the Holy Scriptures – encourages self-effacement and full reliance on and obedience to God, and those whom God places over us in our lives. Just as Christ taught in the Beatitudes, “the meek shall inherit the earth” and as St. Francis prayed, “It is in dying that we find eternal life”, these 12 steps guarantee exaltation not through self-effort and striving for praise and glory, but through the pursuit and practice – yes, practice – of humility.

If relief from the rat race and refreshment from the unending, empty cycle of self-fulfillment is what you seek, read this book.  Then start with Step One.  Although each step is a greater spiritual challenge than the one before, you will sense a freer, calmer, and more grounded sense of being.  Your life will have a well-developed root system, protecting it from the harshness and heat of life’s difficulties.  You will find freedom.   From the introduction:

It is humility that stands to set us free.  Free from the ambition that drives us, from the angers that rule us, from the greed that consumes us, from the chains we have mistaken for success and superiority.

I loved this book, and will read again and again as I, in my midlife years, search to achieve a sense of authenticity and true meaning for the rest of my life.  “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up” (James 4:10, KJV).

(Chittister, Joan. Radical Spirit: 12 Ways to Live a Free and Authentic Life.  2017. Convergent Books: New York.  ISBN 978-0-451-49517-4. $22.00.  I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.)

 

Fresh Starts

This is not the post I meant to write.

The post I meant to write is one I’ve been chewing on for weeks.  That one’s about patience, about the bite of patience, the burden of patience, and the blessing of patience.(Alliteration is so fun!)  Very serious and contemplative and deep stuff.

Keep your eyes open for that one – it’s gonna be AWESOME.

This one, on the other hand, is one I’m just dashing off because…because of THIS:

new journal
I thought I’d go with this cool Celtic design, being 22% Irish and all…

Yes, you’re right! It’s a new journal!

Not everyone is a journaler (I don’t know if that’s a word!), but I have been since I was a freshman in college.  I would journal faithfully, every day, logging events and emotions and story ideas and frustrations and spiritual insights…I LOVED my journals, and eagerly anticipated reaching the end of one so I could crack open a brand new one.  My “hope” chest is crammed full of volume after volume after volume…

And then came marriage. And children. And financial worries and woes. And stress. And packing. And moving. And again. And self-care (of which journaling is most certainly a part) went out the window for years…

But just over two years ago, right when my personal story was getting super dramatic and the growing crisis was reaching a boiling-over-point, I picked up my pen and a half-used journal and started there.

In the last 2 years, as I’ve made a habit of penning my thoughts and feelings and insights and questions (no, not daily- still married, still parenting, still sorting out finances and dealing with stress…fortunately NOT moving, at least not anytime soon!), I’ve found a sense of stability and release and have re-claimed the ability to look at what I’ve written and receive insight on how to manage it.  Once it’s on paper, everything is so much less threatening.

And a new journal – ohmygoodnessitsafreshstartanewchapterawholenewworld!

Congratulations if you could read that the first time.

But it’s true, isn’t it?

fresh journal page
Just look at that pretty blank page!

Something about a blank journal page is so promising and hopeful and exciting!  As much as I loved writing in the last one, I couldn’t help but quiver in anticipation as I saw that last page getting closer and closer, knowing that, when I close the back cover of that volume, it’s all history! Sure, I can go back and read and ponder (and I do frequently), but that new volume gets all my creative juices flowing and reminds me that I can write my life however I want to.  The last chapter has ended, the new has begun.

It’s a lot like New Year.

And it also reminds me of our Heavenly Father – the grandest Writer and Architect and Composer ever.  I am a master of mucking things up (explaining the crisis I found myself in 2 years ago), but He?  He is the Author of fresh starts, new chapters, blank pages.  That He can walk into a life and re-boot it, wipe away all the mistakes and the wrong turns and the poor decisions and say, “Here’s a new book – try again!” is, by far, a tender mercy beyond compare.

In 1993, I wrote a sonnet.  Yes, a sonnet.  One of those Shakespearean language nightmares.  It was never accepted for publication, but perhaps that was meant to be because now I get to share it. Looking at that new journal, that fresh start, that steppingstone towards greater things, brought it to my memory, and it’s so perfect for this moment:

WRITER

With pen in hand, I’m poised to make a mark

Upon a brand new page, so clean and white.

The words reflect my thoughts: confused and dark

And jumbled; nothing that I scrawl sounds right.

I dash and scribble, frantically erase

Mistakes that mar the beauty of my piece;

I sweat and toil and gasp for words of grace

And elegance – the struggle does not cease!

The piles of crumpled paper on the floor

Are proof that untried words may have no part;

But patience soon prevails…my eyes, strained sore,

Behold the finished work of priceless art.

The Writer of my life, with no less care

Inscribes in me a text of radiance rare.

God can, and will, rewrite your life. It is His joy to “give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified” (Isaiah 61:3).

 

Sometimes it’s not about the journey

Sometimes it’s not about the journey

My favorite statement from Kayla’s beautiful blog – and she’s SPOT ON: “Sometimes, I realized, as I stopped dead in my tracks to catch my breath, realizing there was yet another switchback that hinted at us being nowhere near the trailhead–the journey is ugly. “

These Mountains We Climb

This blog post came to me precisely around the time the snow pack shifted under my hiking boot and I felt my ankle “crack”.

It wasn’t a break–I knew that right away. But it was uncomfortable enough that the 8 or so miles to go didn’t sound too exciting at that moment.

It was around that time when my cute partner turned around with his hiking poles in hand, his eyes covered by dark glasses to keep away the glare from the white–and he said genuinely, “Babe, do we need to turn back?”

No, was my response of course–as I winced, adjusted my hiking boot, and continued onward. I’m stubborn like that–and he knows it.

snow trekker

It was the very last hike of our weekend and I wasn’t about to let it slow me down. He had planned the perfect anniversary weekend. We stayed in a train car that was…

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