Success

I sent a text to my oldest kids tonight, with a quote from one of my favorite authors. The writings of Richard Rohr have profoundly influenced my continued growth as I seek to understand and appreciate the intersection of people and faith. So I sent the kids a Rohr quote, something that popped up on my Twitter feed in a blog post by Ed Cyzewski.

(This is parenting these days; group texts and Twitter quotes….)

From his book Immortal Diamond, Rohr says:  “If you are too obsessed with success, you will forget to live. If you have learned only how to be a success, your life has probably been wasted. Success is hardly ever your True Self, only your early window dressing….”

There’s so much wrapped up in those few sentences that embodies what minuscule wisdom that has arrived on my middle-aged doorstep. Somebody asked me, once, if I felt my life had been successful. I wasn’t really sure how to answer.

I have listened to so many people share stories of defeat and discouragement. They struggle to believe that they have succeeded, finding themselves in difficult places, difficult relational situations, financial messes. We tell folks, “It’s about the journey”, but that’s so often easier heard than applied. When

Let’s Talk About Food

Yes, let’s talk.

“Whole 30”; it’s a buzz-word lately. Within the past year, somebody around me is ALWAYS “doing Whole30”; you go out to eat and they have to ask whether the chicken is cooked in vegetable oil or olive oil, they can’t eat chips, they push away anything with sugar in it, they read labels on everything, and they are constantly looking for obscure things in the hidden corners of Kroger (“Excuse me – where is the ghee? Is that how you say it? Do you have coconut oil? Is this coconut milk unsweetened?”)

They’ve surrounded me since last fall, and last week Tony and I joined their ranks.

It’s Day 11 (of 30), and before I tell you what it took to get us here – and why we’ll power through the remaining 19 days – let me explain Whole 30 as I see it.

Essentially, it’s a body detox. The idea is to focus on eating only ‘whole’ foods – stuff that has not been processed or filled with additives. Whole 30 doesn’t mean you’re suddenly eating everything from the organic, cage-free, open-range part of the supermarket; but you will be spending more time in the produce section. Focusing on ‘whole’ foods means that you’re eliminating all dairy, sugar, wheat and corn. There are a few extras on the ‘no’ list – peanuts (but not cashews or almonds) and beans of any kind, snow peas; stuff that falls into the ‘possibly inflammatory’ category. So, yes; there’s a pretty long list of stuff you DON’T eat (and by the way, I’ve learned it’s easier to think, don’t eat that rather than can’t eat that, because who likes being that you can’t have something? I don’t.), and most of my go-to mindless munchies are on that list.

But what can you eat? The list is endless. After almost two weeks in, it’s not that outlandish – in fact, it’s pretty awesome. Meat, poultry, pork, seafood; vegetables; potatoes (sweet and regular); fruit. Lots and lots of food! You’re not going to starve on Whole 30, for sure.

But the stuff you DON’T eat are the things that, over time, have come to represent more than nutrition for your body. They’re treats; rewards; compensation; comforts. And that’s the key, I think, to this entire process – you recognize why and when you reach for Oreos or ice cream or Tostitos (because you’re still reaching – I promise!) – and you reconsider, because you’ve made this decision NOT to eat that for 30 days. And that process of awareness has made a HUGE difference in my life – spiritually, mentally and even physically.

Not that I’ve lost 10 pounds in one week or anything; this is NOT a weight loss program. But here’s what I can tell you about the physical impact: I feel better. And I’m not going to put that out there and be all vague about having more energy (though I do) and sleeping better (though I am). Here are the specifics:

  • My nose quit bleeding for an entire week. I’ve had chronic nosebleeds for well over a year now, regardless of the humidity or the temperature. Until yesterday, when I sat in front of the fire all day and didn’t run the humidifier, my nose has not bled since I changed my eating habits.
  • My ears quit itching. I’ve had chronic eczema INSIDE of my ears (I know – GROSS!) for most of my life. In the past three years, it’s ramped up and been awful, and I have a steroid cream I put inside my ears three times a week to control the itching and flaking. Gone.
  • I sleep. I get to sleep, and I stay asleep.
  • No more bloating. I feel – and look – like an entire layer of puff has been removed from my body. Not ‘fat’, per se – but it’s as if I was tightly wrapped in Saran Wrap with a layer of thick cream, and it’s gone. My joints move differently; my skin looks more wrinkly (not a good thing, I know…)
  • My gut is working – shall we say – ‘regularly’? Enough said.

The realization that something is going on with my body as I eliminate certain things has done something incredible and empowering in my brain. I’ve done this before; several years ago, on the advice of a well-respected chiropractic neurologist. I remember feeling good then, too. But I didn’t follow through on the second, important Whole 30 step. On day 31, you begin to introduce what you eliminated – one by one – and consider the reaction of your body. For example, there is something that I was regularly consuming that caused the irritation in my ears. Was it dairy? Sugar? Gluten? If I manage the reintroduction phase correctly, I’ll figure it out, and I’ll be empowered and equipped to make informed choices about my health.

It’s one of the healthiest spiritual things I’ve ever done. Everything is connected, you know…and the interaction between body, mind and spirit couldn’t be clearer to me these days.

Everything is spiritual. 

Praying In Color

In the past 18 months I have experienced more change in my internal, spiritual life than I expected. I arrived at this transition in an interesting way – one for which an explanation would require more than a single blog post. In general, I can tell you that I truly let go of a few things; but not in the pithy Let go and let God sort of way.

Except, yes – exactly in that way.

Funny; a good part of my internal, spiritual growth seems to be connected to a certain newfound understanding, born of age and experience, that many things are simultaneously less complicated and more complex than once believed.

Faith, for example. It’s incredibly complex, viewed through the lens of Biblical theology, history, personal experience, understanding of salvation and man’s relationship with all religion. ‘Having faith’ or being a ‘person of faith’ defines us to ourselves and to others in ways that allow for easy compartmentalization. There are boxes for everyone, and we love to fill them up.

Yet faith is also a simple thing. Our questions will never be completely answered; nobody, and I mean nobody, holds the key to understanding everything. Faith is not extensive and exhaustive; it is a jumping-off place, a starting point. We are all people of faith to some degree. It just seems that the object of our faith is often up for grabs.

So ‘let go and let God’ is a small, ridiculous statement that is completely and utterly simplistic, and extremely irrelevant to serious people with serious faith. And ‘let go and let God’ is the deepest, most self-aware, kindest act a person can do – for themselves and for others.

It’s that sort of thing that has been working in and through my soul in these past months; living in the mess, the paradox, the in-between. The simple stuff has become increasingly meaningful. The contradiction brings comfort, the tension is profound. To quote Gungor, Somehow the common becomes the divine.

So, I started coloring.

First, it was the adult coloring books that are so popular these days. I bought a couple and dug in. Rebelliously, I colored with Sharpies, because I had some and I wanted to. The markers bled through and ruined adjacent pages. They smeared. But, hey – one of the perks of coloring as a grown-up is that you can do whatever the heck you want.

And that, right there, was one of the first things that impacted my soul:

Some rules don’t have to be followed.

Especially when it comes to creative pursuits. Consider who made the rules, and why they’re there, and when you might get to decide to push past them. Obviously, this attitude can be used to rationalize all sorts of bad behavior; but at a certain point, you realize that a careful examination of why you follow certain rules can lead to astonishing freedoms.

Who said we couldn’t use Sharpies to color? Probably a lot of art teachers, and parents, and people who don’t want you to waste Sharpie ink.

But I started coloring, and I used my Sharpies, and freedom abounded.

Step two: I got a new book for Christmas, which is not unusual; but it was unfamiliar to me. I opened it with interest and a bit of skepticism, as it was a book about Prayer, and the cynic in me has read just enough about “being a better pray-er” and “improving your prayer life “and “praying to please God” and “praying without ceasing” and I just didn’t really want another group of essays about prayer that would likely make me feel, again, like I wasn’t quite cutting it.

(I mentioned the cynic in me; she is well-fueled and often, not very nice. My apologies for any offense.)

But I was oh-so-wrong, because this was a book about improving your prayer life but unlike anything I’d seen – or considered – before. As I mentioned, I like to color, and you may not know this, but I am a constant doodler – my notes in meetings often take the shape of houses and flowers and people and all sorts of creative meanderings – and this book joined those two things together and said, Hey guess what? You can call that prayer! and I said No way! and the book said Yes, way! and here we are, a week into adopting the practice of Praying In Color and everything has changed.

I struggle with prayer. Oh, I do it all the time; I know it’s good for me, it strengthens my faith, it matters. But I always feel like I’m falling short, not really doing enough. I think a lot of it has to do with sheer time; I never seem to have ENOUGH TIME to pray like I feel I should or want to. Prayer is closely aligned with meditation, being still, simply being in the presence of God, and my go-go-go lifestyle makes that an incredible struggle for me.

It’s hard to be still.

But here’s something that good teachers have known for decades; that if a student is struggling with focus, giving them something to distract their desire to be distracted helps things calm down and clarify. That clarity has come in droves for me, as I find myself easily – happily – sitting each morning with my little sketch book, doodling and coloring and drenching it all with an internal sense of meditative wellness, good thoughts, kindness, submission, supplication and petition that might otherwise be known as prayer.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the folks at our Riverside Campus are offended and outraged. How could it be that their Campus Pastor carries a weakness for prayer? Shouldn’t pastors be naturally good at that sort of thing? Why in the world would a church leader need to start coloring to be effective at praying? Shouldn’t you have figured this out by now?

The wisdom and discernment that comes with experience comes into play here, and I confess that I have no good, solid answer, except to say this: I am convinced that God is more pleased with my honesty about where and how I struggle that He would ever be with my pathetic attempts to be All That.

(Been there, done that; it did not end well.)

I’m just a girl who likes to color and doodle, and is happily convinced that the Divine Presence, Creator of the World, Author of Salvation is willing to put my pictures on the metaphorical refrigerator of heaven.

Amen.

Seriously, I can’t recommend this book highly enough for anyone who wants a jump start to their meditative / prayer / internal life. So grateful to my brother and sister-in-law for thinking of me! Find Praying In Color here.




Happy 2016

So, I’m ringing in 2016 in the unfortunate manner in which I faced too many nights in 2015: sleepless.

Sleepless in Cleveland.

I also started a sentence – in fact, this entire piece – with “So”, a lazy use of a conjunction that drives me crazy when it is placed at the beginning of a statement. Interview subjects on NPR do this all the time.

The new year is not looking good thus far – three hours in. The weather is ridiculous – there’s no snow, and everything seems out of whack. I can’t sleep. We have a long drive home tomorrow and I’ll be fairly worthless.

/ / /

On second thought, things really aren’t all that bad.

  • I know why I can’t sleep – it was that cup of coffee with dessert after our New Year’s Eve dinner. 

  • I’m not asleep, but my husband is, and he’ll be able to do most of the driving.

  • We have family – scattered all over the place, but safe – and we love one another.

  • The year looks to be one of transition and growth.As of right now, no one is getting married in our back yard this summer, so that’s a big plus. 

And finally, I’m in a good place – better than I’ve been in years – in regards to the space I am occupying these days; my vocation, my spiritual life, my attitude, and an overall sense of being content. There are quite a few unknowns ahead, but there is a settledness in me that is welcome and new.

So….tomorrow might be a wash, but I’ll be with the man that makes me the happiest. I’ll be home by the end of the day, with the kids I adore. And we’ll hit the ground running to make 2016 all the best it can be.

That’s a pretty good place to start.