prayer: a poem

all day long the mumbled missives are sent:
postcard length portraits of this human experience.

our cherished hopes,
concerns for our loved ones,
whispered pleas for green lights,
passing thoughts for strangers,

prayers fill in our still moments, forming
the punctuation of our days.

the world as we wish it to be,

all placed carefully in the palm of our creator.

who do you love?
What is it you hope for?
Who are you
truly?

the contents of our prayers tell the true story, revealed only to
a God who sees us.

IMG_0097

Advertisements

freedom

So I just spent a week blogging about ways my life could use discipline… but as I was jogging yesterday, I realized that I cannot talk about these things without also talking about the most important principle of my life.

freedom.

You see, freedom, specifically, my freedom in Christ, is one of the most defining characteristics of my existence.  I grew up in a faithful Christian home, full of grace filled believers.  But somehow, I grew up with the misconception that living a life as a Christ follower involved toeing the line in all areas.  I was a dedicated do-gooder, a person who believed that living in a way that pleased God meant that I had to beat myself into submission.  Although I could define grace if asked, I lived as if it had no impact on my life and my world.

So what happened to change things?  I messed up.  I made mistakes.  Big ones.  Ones that went against my definition of who I was, and flew in the face of what I had decided a ‘good Christian’ should be.  My selfish and immature 19 year old mistakes wrecked my model of Christianity and I found myself at a Crossroads: walk away from my faith in disgrace, or engage with God on new terms.

Once I wrecked my paradigm of Good Christian Behavior, the Bible began to make more sense.  900 some pages of people messing up, and God remaining faithful.  Before, I read these scriptures as a Pharisee, scoffing at the Israelites’  hardheadedness.  Now, I comprehended the message that God was SHOUTING through these pages- there is simply no way to be good enough to earn your way into heaven.

You can’t do it.

And yet, God still loves us.  Has redeemed us.  Sent his Son to suffer and die and pay the price of our hardheadedness, our sin, our stiff necked pride.  Through Jesus, we have been given a precious gift: freedom.  Our very inability to be good enough to win God’s favor invites us into a world of adventure.  One where failure is acceptable, even expected.  One where we have the opportunity to discover who we really are, and in turn, more of who God is.

Yes.  We try to honor God with our choices.  Yes.  Discipline is part of the Christian walk.  But discipline inevitably leads to failure.  And sometimes, deliberately breaking the rules we set for ourselves reminds us of who is ultimately in charge.

freedomSo when I wake up tired or discouraged, I give myself permission to fail.  To fall short of the 20 mile march.  To leave the laundry unfolded.  To turn the 8 PM rule into the 4 PM rule, or to burn the midnight oil, whatever is required to honor the needs of my soul.  And in these permissions, I am also realizing that I am free.  As a child of Christ, my worth isn’t set upon what I accomplish, the cleanliness of my house, the behavior of my kids or the balance in my checkbook.  My identity is hidden in Him, and I am free to rest in the shadow of his wings.

Those who live in the shelter of the Most High
    will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
This I declare about the Lord:
He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;
    he is my God, and I trust him.
For he will rescue you from every trap
    and protect you from deadly disease.
He will cover you with his feathers.
    He will shelter you with his wings.
    His faithful promises are your armor and protection.
Psalm 91:1-4

the 8 o’clock rule

Earlier this year, I was reading a new book, A Woman in Youth Ministry, by Gina Abbas.  As she was talking about balancing life and work, she mentioned a rule that she and her husband had devised.  No matter what remains undone, they stop working after 8 PM.  Once the clock strikes 8, they are off the clock.  The rest of the evening remains for resting, spending time with each other, and reminding themselves that they are real adults who are allowed to relax and enjoy a portion of their day.

Wow.

For me, this has been a mental game changer in my life.  Giving myself permission NOT TO DO things.  My kids are usually in bed by 7:30, so that gives me a 30 minute window to get things done.  Get the leftovers put into the fridge, the dishwasher loaded.  Put my laundry away.  Clean up the living room.  But once 8 PM rolls around, I am done.

800-pm-clockBut what if there are still dirty pots on the stove?  That’s ok.  They will be there tomorrow.  But what if I still have to send a work email?  Do you really want people to expect you to be checking and sending work email at night?  But what if the living room is still covered in toys?  Well then the kids will have an easier time when they start to play in the morning.

I find this rule to be a great complement to the 20 mile march.  Because there are days (plenty of them), when the work doesn’t get done.  And knocking off after 14 or 18 miles… that is ok.  If I don’t carve out time for rest, renewal, and remembering to be myself, the chances that i will be successful tomorrow diminish as well.  Creating a rule for rest is something I find necessary, or else I won’t give myself permission to do it.  And isn’t rest, Sabbath, one of God’s priorities?  Sometimes checking out reminds me of my real importance (or lack of importance) in the world.  Reminding myself that things won’t crash down around me just because I am watching TV is a good thing.  A holy thing even.  We have a sustainer of the universe.  But it’s not me.

“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
Mark 6:31

the one minute rule

Question:  how much time do you spend stressed out by piles of paper in your life?
Answer:  if you are like me, probably a lot.

For some reason, papers seem to gather in my house.  A pile of unpaid bills mixed up with coupons and take out menus on the kitchen counter.  A jumble of children’s drawings and notes from meetings on the ottoman in the bedroom.  A pile of unopened mail on the table by the front door.  These papers, while seeming innocuous, are very good at needling me.  Reminding me of the things I need to get done.  These piles of paper serve as a metaphor for me- silent reminders of the (many) things that are going undone.

They can also make me feel out of control.  Wherever I look, my eyes seem to land on yet another thing on my to-do list.  And just like that, an out of control day begins to feel like an out of control life.

When reading Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project, I came across the One-Minute Rule.  It is simple. If a task can be completed in one minute or less, just go ahead and do it.  Hang up your coat.  Pay the credit card bill on your mobile app.  Put the dishes in your dishwasher.  Change the toilet paper roll.

By taking a proactive role on these ‘micro-chores’, I have found myself feeling much more empowered.  The volume of visual reminders of things I have yet to do decreases dramatically.

I have also found that some of these simple tasks have more of a payoff than I would believe.  Making the bed.  Flossing.  Recycling the junk mail, unopened.  For some reason, knowing that I have done these tasks make me feel more in control of my life, more competent.  More adult.

What one minute tasks could you take on today?  Try a couple- and see how you feel!

So I saw that there is nothing better for a person than to enjoy their work, because that is their lot. For who can bring them to see what will happen after them?
Ecclesiastes 3:22minute

the 20 mile march

As I said in the last post, this is a series on principles of discipline that have resonated with me and help shape the way I live my everyday life.  Each principle is borrowed from someone else, so I will do my best to give credit where credit is due, while also talking about how it impacts my own life!

Jim Collins writes about the principle of the 20 mile march in his book Great by Choice.  In this book, he tells the story of two arctic explorers, Ronald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott.  In October of 1911, each man was leading a team of explorers in a race to be the first humans to traverse the 1400 miles of wilderness required to reach the South Pole.  While both teams were 20 mile marchsimilar in makeup, Amundsen and Scott differed greatly in approach.  Scott took each day as it came, on clear days his team would press on until exhaustion, travelling the greatest distance they could.  On days with poor weather, his team would remain at camp, not venturing out into the storm.  Amundsen’s team had a different strategy.  No matter how the day dawned, his team had the same goal- 1/4 of a degree latitude- or 15 to 20 miles per day.  On stormy days they would press ahead, eyes fixed upon their goal.  On clear days when they could have done more, they would rest, knowing that their task had been achieved.  Each explorer could justify their approach… yet, Admunsen’s team reached the South Pole a full month before the other team.  Once they got there, they turned around and headed back home, 20 miles at a time.  Scott’s team reached the South Pole, but perished on the return journey, exhausted and depleted.

I have the reputation for being a voracious reader.  When people ask me how I read so much, my answer seems condescending: One chapter at a time.  I don’t mean to be rude, but that is truly how I get the reading done.  I promise myself that I will read one chapter per day.  That means, in a week or two, the book has been read.

The same with scripture- 3 chapters a day will allow you to read the entire Bible in a year.  Done.

Walking or running 3 miles each day helps ensure you that you will reach a 10,000 step goal each day.

When I walk into the office each morning, I make a practice of using the first 30 minutes to read and reply to each email in my inbox.

These small, achievable goals add up to progress.   1400 miles, one step at a time.  What small daily goals could you make part of your 20 mile march?  Would shifting your thinking to encapsulate this make you feel more in control of your life?  If you would, I would challenge you to take up the practice!  It has changed my life!

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.
Colossians 3:23

discipline

One thing that people frequently tell me is that they don’t know how I do it all.   For those of you who read this blog you know that I don’t particularly feel that accomplished any given day… but the fact remains that I do manage to hold down a full time job, feed and care for two tiny humans, and in general have friends, family, and meaningful relationships in my life.  And yes, that means that on any given day, I am getting a lot done!

Over the next few blogs, I am going to share a few ‘rules of life’ that I have found to be helpful in my daily life.  All three fall under one big umbrella: discipline.  Living a disciplined life isn’t something that Americans find particularly appealing.  We live in a binge and quit culture.  If we can’t read an entire book in a sitting, we put it down and never take it back up.  If we don’t master a new hobby or skill set in a quick amount of time, we throw up our hands in disgust.  If we don’t lose 5 pounds the first week of a new diet, we give up and dive headfirst into the nearest tub of ice cream.  I know- I do it too.

But I have found that, for me at least, the only way to truly grow as a person- or at this stage in my life, the only way to really get anything at all done (!)- is to have discipline in my approach.  To plan ahead, to make a goal, and then to chip away at that goal, one tiny bite at a time.

As Christians, discipline should be something that awakens a holy desire in us.  In fact, are Christ’s followers not called disciples?  Inherent in the title alone is the practice of daily devotion.  There was a time in my life when I was able to set crazy, ambitious goals, and then just do them.  To run half marathons.  To take up new hobbies.  To read 100 books in a year.  Those days came crashing to a halt the day my first child was born.  For a while, accepting this was really hard.  I didn’t realize how much of my identity was wrapped up in being a do-er.  A reader.  An artist.  A person who did fun things and had adventures.

To be fair, I still do all these things.  On a less grand scale.  With much planning.  And I still love doing them.  But there is less applause involved.  And part of my process of growing is realizing that this is ok.  Do I run so that I can casually wear the race t-shirt at social gatherings or drop stories about my latest training program?  Or do I run because I love being outside?  Because I realize that excersize is a vital part of my own self-care?  Because it feeds my soul?  Losing some of the external applause, while humbling, also sharpens my ears to the song my own soul sings when I do things just for the joy of doing them.

Yet running, just like reading God’s word or painting a canvas, isn’t always the thing that I want to do at any given moment.  How does one engage in doing things when we don’t feel like doing them?  Discipline.

pathI am a goal setter.  But I also recognize that setting achievable goals is an important practice.  10,000 steps per day.  One chapter of this book each night.  Paying attention to the food that goes into my mouth. The book takes longer to read.  The weight takes longer to melt away.. but it happens.

Once you start achieving your small goals, it is kind of amazing how fast those small goals add up to big ones.  1 book finished becomes 10, then 30.  A few ounces lost adds up to pounds.  A few rows of knitting turns into a baby blanket.  Slowly, one day at a time, you are reminded that you are a person that CAN do things, even if it takes longer.  But, paradoxically, these things become more precious for the effort that went into them…