Practice

Ever notice how yoga teachers are always thanking you for joining their practice that day? I used to think it was a humble brag, like look I can pretzel my legs behind my neck while reading a magazine but I’m calling it practice so you can tell me how awesome I am. But now I realize that it’s something different altogether. Practice as a way of life, as a way of centering yourself, honing your skills, training  your muscles and ingraining your craft into your very bones. 

I am reading two amazing books right now… You Are What You Love by James K. A. Smith and Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Wilson. Both books focus on the premise that souls are calibrated by more than just facts. That right thinking isn’t the end goal of discipleship. Rather, our daily practices, our actions and reactions, the way we live our lives, reflect the true desires of our heart. And the only way to become more fully aligned with Christ, to issue in the Kingdom of Heaven, is to intentionally shape and reshape our daily practices to point us more closely to God.

For years, I had an ingrained daily habit of ‘quiet time’. However, when my son was born, all of a sudden I had a LOT more going on. Free time was at a minimum. Free hands were inconceivable. And add to that some Big Feelings that I was reluctant to face head on. The thought of journaling filled me with anxiety. And so, I put the journal away. And have only picked it up sporadically since. 

Interestingly enough, it was about the same time that I felt like I was becoming unmoored in my spiritual life. I felt like it was harder to hear from God, harder to feel centered and secure in my relationship with him. I told myself it was because my journaling had become an idol – a way to ‘check off’ my good behavior for the day. That I felt like I wasn’t feeling God’s presence because I wasn’t stuck in my old habit. But, what if I was feeling this way because I had simply walked away from over a decade of daily spiritual practice? What if it was neglecting a way that my soul connects with God, a way I had learned to process my thoughts and feelings and lay them before the Throne? 

If what we do shapes who we are, then our daily practice, the times when we intentionally engage with God, become all the more vital. Not in a legalistic way – having a quiet time or not does not change God’s love for you. But does it change our consciousness of him? Or does it change us? Is fasting for God, or is it meant to remind us the true source of our daily bread?  Does God keep record of how much we read his Word? Or does reading the Bible make us more fully aware of who God is?

In the past few weeks, I have resolved to start journaling again. Not because I ‘should’, but because I want to. Because I want to more fully attune my soul to my savior. To remind myself of what matters and how the pattern of my days point to God’s work in my life. To remember my prayers, and watch as God answers. To have tangible written proof of the story God is writing in my life.

Journaling isn’t a magic bullet. It’s not a must for being a good Christian. But it is a tool. A practice, if you will. A way to take the head knowledge of our redemption and pull it in to the center of who we are.

And as I proceed, I will continue to ask myself… how do the things I do point towards the things I love?

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When love and judgment meet

So – like most of you, I have had a ground-level view of 2017-era America. In fact, I have been paying particularly close attention… Say what you want, but it’s not pretty y’all. 

The public discourse in the media, on Facebook, even in the legislature sounds like the backseat of my car when my two preschoolers are hangry. (i.e. what my car sounds like on my way home from work every. single. day. ) 

People are upset. Opinions are flying. And my brothers and sisters in Christ, myself included, aren’t holding back. And even though I have feelings (FEELINGS) about what is going on, the thing that bothers me the most is that I don’t believe that any of this is how Jesus would handle this. Christ saw his fair share of controversy. Of corrupt government. Of abhorrent behavior and outright racism. And yet each person he met seemed singular in his attention. Not stereotyped into groups. Not categorized by race or color or orientation or belief. Each person was precious and worthy of his full attention. 

And if that’s just not what I am seeing today. In fact, to confess, that’s just not how I am behaving today. 

So here goes… 

to my brothers and sisters of color, God loves you. Deeply. He created you to be exactly who you are intentionally and joyfully. (Ps. 139) his active desire for this world is to see love and justice roll like water, to break down barriers, to see his children sit together and peace, love, and equality.  Jesus loves you. Y O U. And so do I…

to my precious fellow children of God who are immigrants, refugees, strangers in a strange land, God loves you. Jesus himself was a refugee. His people wandered for centuries in a land that was not their home. God has a heart for setting the lonely in families. (Ps. 68) he wants to shelter you under the feathers of his wings. (Ps. 91)  Jesus loves you. Y O U. And so do I…

To my beloved family members who LBGTQ, questioning, or somewhere in between, God loves you. You are made in the image of the Most High God, and that God defines himself as Love. Your ability to love and the love you give and receive to the world is a reflection of His nature.  His thoughts for you outnumber the grains of sand on the seashore. (Ps 139) God rejoices over you with singing (Zeph 3). Jesus loves you. Y O U. And so do I…

To my dear siblings who feel marginalized, silenced, overlooked, God loves you. You are not forgotten, you are not abandoned. God perceives your thoughts from afar. (Ps 139) He knows your days, he says that to Him, you are a priceless treasure. (1 Pet. 2) remember – it was to you the angel armies appeared to announce the coming of our Savior. 

And to my fellow believers, my spiritual family, I pray that you know deep in your bones how wildly loved you are. 

-But-

I hope that you also remember that none of us, not one, are righteous. That if we were able to measure up to God’s standard on our own accord, there would have been no need for Christ to come and die. I hope that you remember your own awakening to this kingdom of faith, and realize that it was the voice of love, and not the voice of condemnation or fear, that drew you in. It is my conviction that the Kingdom of God would be much more close at hand if we His children encountered the world with an attitude of radical love, not condemnation.

Yes, I agree, sin is sin. Yet it seems lately more convenient to concern ourselves with the specks in the eyes of others. What planks hinder our vision today? Could it be that our preoccupation with legislating morality is actually hurting the kingdom cause? 

Jesus showed outright love and compassion to those the world condemned. The adulterous. The woman at the well. Zacchaeus. The thieves on the cross. He reserved his condemnation for the Pharisees, the moneychangers in the temple. Those who benefited from his grace yet did not extend said grace to others. 

I will admit – I have no answers. I do not actually know what Jesus would do if he lived in America today. But I have read the Bible. A few times. And much more than a rulebook, the Bible is a love story. And in this book, we are not the mighty hero. We are in the damsel in distress. Needing a rescue. Drowning in a flood of our own making. The thought of which reminds me to end with this: to my fellow Christians…

Jesus loves you. Y O U. And so do I…

Are you a real person? Am I? What about them? 

True fact. I have birthed two babies in the last five years. Which means, in the last five years I have gained and lost 50 pounds. Twice. I have been all the sizes. All of them. I may never have been skinny, but I have certainly been fat.

My friend, who has been in the same situation, remarked yesterday that she was shocked at how differently people treat her now that she has lost the baby weight as opposed to before. She recently took a flight for a work related trip. She couldn’t believe how different way she was treated this time than she was a few months – and several pounds – ago. 

I have had the same experience. When I weighed more, I received less eye contact. People didn’t hold the door open for me or smile for me nearly as much. It could be argued that this was just my perception, since I felt more insecure about myself, but the difference is so marked that I am convinced it goes beyond that. 

And what’s more, I am convinced that this is not just an experience of people that struggle with weight. Watching and listening to the national discourse over the last few months, I truly believe that different people have different experience in this world. And let me say right now that this is not a political blog. I’m not pushing a feminist or leftist worldview here. However, I do want to make an appeal to my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. This is not right.

I don’t care how you feel about federal funding, immigration, abortion, politics. (Or perhaps I do, but not in this blog). What I do care about is how we as Christ’s image bearers treat our fellow man. 

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. 

John 13:35

The story of the New Testament is one of a struggle for identity in the new church. There was a constant debate going on about who is on the inside and who was on the outside. Jews versus Gentiles. Circumcised versus uncircumcised. The rights of women. Who is allowed at the Lord’s supper. Which widows and orphans are allowed support by the church. And again and again the same answer prevailed. All are welcome. We are all sinners, all redeemed by grace. Through the blood of Christ, we all are equal.

It is the habit of our fallen nature to discriminate. To decide who is like us, who is acceptable, who is worthy of notice, of compassion, of kindness. But Jesus made a business of reaching out to those not universally accepted. The Gentile, the adulterous, the woman, the child, the tax collector, the day laborers, the uneducated. People whose stature in society was low. People who did not get doors held open for them, or eye contact, or friendly words from strangers.

And we as Christians are called to follow that example. Which has convicted me lately – what are my unconscious biases?

Last week I was walking downtown on my way back from lunch when I saw an elderly African-American gentleman stumbling in front of me. His appearance was disheveled. Instinctively I tightened my grip on my purse and looked around me. But then, I checked myself. This man was not drunk. He was not interacting with anybody on the street. He was elderly, poor, and disabled. And my first inclination was not to offer aid, assistance, or compassion. It was to guard against him. I stood convicted by the Holy Spirit.  

And it has forced me to ask myself: what do I think when I approach someone on the street who looks or seems different than me? How do I treat people who live different lives than the one I am used to? I am not saying in a larger sense, but in the common everyday mercies I extend to others. Am I more annoyed by someone who cuts me off in traffic if they look different than me? Am I more likely to greet somebody at the grocery store if they are young and able bodied versus old and slow when pushing the cart? In what small ways can I extend love and grace to people who may not speak my language, who may not live in my neighborhood or who may not know my Jesus?

Before we can change the world, I think we have to take a long hard look at ourselves, to confront the unconscious biases we hold, and to actively seek to love our fellow (wo)man, all of them. 

And for me (perhaps getting a little bit political here) I have felt an overwhelming conviction that I need to listen. To stop protesting that I am not a racist or sexist or a nationalist or a whatever -ist, and listen to see what the every day realities of people who are not me may be. I have been shocked. I have been humbled. I have been convicted. I have been encouraged. But mostly, I have seen that what I thought was reality is not the every day experience of people all around me. Which has led me to think and pray about how Christ would feel about this. How Christ would react to these stories. And how I as a Christ follower should also be.

No answers yet. Just more listening. And praying.

Snowstorm Sabbath

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One of my favorite things about living in the South is our kooky reaction to winter weather.  As the first flakes of frozen precipitation begin to fall from above, we feel compelled to act as if the sky itself is falling.  School is cancelled.  There is a run on the grocery store.  Motorists on all major thoroughfares immediately smash into fellow  vehicles.  We stack up our firewood, pile on the blankets, and drink mug after mug of hot chocolate.  It’s amazing.

We have just weathered one of those storms, and, as we emerge from the blizzard of 2016, I find myself realizing what it is that I love so much about our winter panic- in the midst of the storm, everything stops.  We stay at home.  Engage with our families.  Cook luxurious meals and excuse ourselves from going to work, to the gym, to board meetings and the other obligations that fill our days.  We shelter in place.

In essence, we take a sabbath.

I cannot tell you how much the last few days have meant to me.  I have had real conversations with my family.  I have gotten down on the floor and played with my children. I took moments to pet my dog.  Wash my dishes by hand.  Talk to my neighbors.  I have marveled at the beauty of nature, and listened to good music.  In essence, I have taken time to stop and truly enjoy this beautiful life I am living.

In typical Southern fashion, the weather today is heading towards 50 degrees.  On the street outside of my office I see people in winter parkas walking next to others in t-shirts.  And I find myself a bit sad about the thaw.  Because although I appreciate the return to normal patterns and schedules, I know I will miss the freedom and space created by the snow.

For the record, no, I am am not wishing for an eternal winter. But I do find myself asking what it is about these snow days that are so meaningful.  What practices can I carry forward into the sunshine?

Here are some questions I have been asking myself in the discovery process… maybe they will resonate with you as well:

What do I cherish the most about snow days?

What elements of this time can I begin to incorporate into my own sabbath practices?

How can I hold myself accountable to engage deeply in relationships with those I love in the midst of my busy-ness?

Are there any new traditions I can put in place in my life to capture some of this whimsy and peace I love so dearly?

That Time Yoga Pants Blew Up My Facebook…

**I want to say up front that I HATE conflict of any type, and I legitimately see ALL sides to this issue.  I am trying to tread a fine line here, while also acknowledging my feelings and beliefs.  So let me begin with the blanket assertion… if what I write seems offensive to you, I am sorry.  I didn’t mean it that way.  I promise**

A few weeks ago, I posted an article to my timeline that was reminiscent of some conversations I had with my roommates in college.  I thought we would have a chuckle and that would be that.  To my surprise, the link began filling up with comments almost immediately.  Clearly I had hit a nerve.

The article was on the debate about whether yoga pants and leggings are appropriate things for Christian women to wear.  The comments were so immediate and so passionate, that I realized there was much more to the issue than meets the eye.  And when I reflected upon it, my feelings ran deep too.  So here is my response.  To everyone.

Let me start by stating the obvious.

1) There are more important issues in Christendom.  People are dying.  Souls are at stake.  Yes.  Let’s dig wells and seek reconciliation and lift high the name of God.  But, with the level of emotion here, I think this may also be an issue that needs to be brought to the table.

2) Dressing modestly is important.  I do not wear string bikinis, crop tops, or short skirts.  I do think that it is part of our responsibility as Christian women to “dress modestly, with decency and propriety” (1 Timothy 2:9).  However, the issue here is not push up bras.  This conversation is about yoga pants.  First cousin to sweatpants.  Just to be clear.  I also realize that there are some black sheep yoga pants out there that were designed to entice.  However, I think it’s safe to say the people wearing these items are not reading this blog.  So stinging rhetoric in the blogosphere is not the most effective way to address this issue.  My assumption is that the women reading this blog own yoga pants paired with hooded sweatshirts, and leggings sold to be pants and not followed by ‘-yhose’.

OK.  That out of the way, here we go.  *deep breath*

The number one argument used against leggings/yoga pants/female clothing trend in debate is usually this…

Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.  For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge.  When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.
-1 Corinthians 8:9-13

Following this line of thought, men who view women in tight pants can stumble, by being caught up in lustful thoughts.  Valid.

However, I would like to bring up another side to this debate.  What if the person caused to stumble into sin by this current debate is me?

Here is the thing.  My body image has always been a stumbling block to me.  I struggled with eating disorders in high school.  I have never once felt comfortable in tight, or even correctly fitting… anything.  And, as I grow older, I realize how MUCH emphasis is put on women’s bodies by the media, by society’s norms, and by my fellow sisters in Christ.  Female actors are critiqued on the clothes that they wear instead of the words that come our of their mouth.  In a middle school girl’s argument, the worst thing you can say is “well you’re FAT.”  We as women are constantly under a microscope- it feels as if our body does not belong to us, but to the public domain.  Am I a person, or an object?  Each time a wardrobe debate comes up, and they come up often, the message is reinforced that there is something inherently wrong about my body.  That I have to change, to hide, to be ashamed of my physical self.

In the church we speak a lot about souls.  And there is this implicit thought that we as humans are souls trapped within bodies.  That this physical container is merely a temporary holding place, something we must deal with until we are set free by death.  At best, our body is labeled as a temple- but still the message is that we have to care for it, feed, water, and exercise  to make sure it is an acceptable holding place for the Spirit of God.

But what if, as humans, we are souls created WITH bodies?  That our body, just like out soul, is part of the way God created us?  That my physical self is just as much ME as my mind or my soul or my heart?  That instead of hating it, starving it, resenting it, or hiding it, it is part of my journey as me? That coming to love me, my body, it’s limitations, its daily embarrassments, is part of my journey of faith?  Let’s put it out there- we all fart.  Perhaps that is a means of teaching humility.  We all have parts of our bodies we would change if we could.  Maybe that reminds us that God’s plans are higher than our plans.

This is probably one of the few times you will hear me talk about my body, or my struggles with self image.  Why?  Because I don’t want that to become a defining storyline of my life.  I don’t want to pass along a legacy of shame about my body to my children.  Because I have decided that the way I look, the numbers on a scale, the jiggle in my yoga pants, isn’t what matters about me.  That may sound trite, but for me, this is a huge battle.  One I fight daily.  And it’s one fought by us all one one level or another.  So be gentle with each other.

Here is the thing I have noticed recently- the main people objecting to yoga pants these days?  Women.  Females judging other females.  Sisters, why are we tearing each other down?  Why are we so busy policing each other, instead of encouraging each other?  What logs in our own eyes are we ignoring as we focus on the splinters in others?

Perhaps you hate my yoga pants… but honestly, isn’t there something else more important to say to me?  Like- ANYTHING else?  Because the fact I am wearing yoga pants today probably says a lot about the kind of morning I had- wrestling two toddlers into clothes and on to school.  Or maybe it speaks to the fact that I spent some time on myself today and went for a run.  That’s something I am proud of, and had to sacrifice to do.  Let’s focus more on the why of the pants, instead of the what.  It leads to a better place.

yoga pants

Create

So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
Genesis 1:27

IMG_6680 Our God is infinitely creative.  Every person, every fingerprint, every leaf and snowflake is unique.  A new creation.  Rocks, buried in the ground, formed in every color of the rainbow, so striking and beautiful that we dig them up and hang them around our necks.  The blood hidden in our veins, red.  The sky, a soaring canvas of blue.  The leaves, an engrossing progression of green, and then, all of a sudden, golden.  Why?  If efficiency were God’s key value, then we would probably live in a mosaic of beige.

Then there is food.  the brightness of a tomato, the richness of 2014-11-14 11.52.19chocolate, the liquid velvet of wine.  Things didn’t need to taste good, God created them to.  And sound.  The whisper of wind through the treetops, the chatter of the birds, the wrenching beauty of music.  Our God wasn’t interested in being functional when he created this place we inhabit.  His goal was beauty.

I’m tired of living a utilitarian life.  I want to be surrounded by beauty.  I want to make a discipline of finding it wherever I am, and then choosing to marvel.  At home, I want to create a space inhabited by beauty.  Not necessarily by buying expensive things, but instead, arranging the things I have purposefully, so that there are glimpses of beauty all around.

Another thing to note.  God made me as a person intensely creative.  I am just now beginning to recognize that not 2014-11-03 16.31.14everyone is built this way.  I have a burning need to create.  To think new thoughts.  To do new things.  To create art, to write out words, to sing songs and to… make stuff.  I am not trying to brag at all, by the way.  There is just a lot of stuff inside me that needs out.  And when I go to long without indulging my need to create, I get antsy.  Itchy.  Another word that rhymes with itchy.

The easiest way to ease the pressure?  Make stuff.  Crochet a hat.  Plan a youth event.  Write a poem.  Paint a picture. This year, I want to make a weekly (daily?) discipline of exercising my creativity.

Here is another truth.2014-12-31 21.12.55  When I make stuff, I can give stuff to people.  Why not use my need to create as a way to bless others?  For me, it is not so much about the end result as it is about the process.  Case in point: this blog isn’t so much about you reading it as it is about me writing it.  If I create a painting- give it to someone who needs to know they are loved.  If I make a scarf, let it be a hug for someone who needs it.  Why not?  God creates, and we are the beneficiaries of it.  When you think about it that way, it seems like giving is inextricably linked to making…

our God.

I have always had a close relationship with God.  Growing up, I never knew a time when I didn’t belive, when I didn’t know Jesus.  I started reading my Bible when I was young.  My faith has sustained me through  the hardest times of my life.

However, I always felt like my faith was a private thing.  I didn’t often talk about my prayer life, about my time spent reading my Bible, or in devotions.  People knew I was a Christian, but the everyday mechanics of my faith felt like an intensely private thing to me.  The heart of this was good.  I didn’t want to alienate others, or make others feel intimidated by my relationship with God, or feel like they had to compare their walk with mine.

However, in that privacy, a seed of sin was planted.  A tiny sprout of pride grew, and its roots settled into my heart.  It looked spiritual, and sounded virtuous, so I didn’t recognize it for what it was.  But when I read about Mary finding favor with God, or David being a man after God’s own heart, I smiled inwardly, feeling that I had a place amongst this elite club.  I read my Bible cover to cover every year.  As years passed, and I had read my Bible 10, 11, 12 times, I began to feel as if I had this God stuff figured out.  It’s ironic, because I didn’t share my devotional practices with anyone because I didn’t want to seem to be bragging.  And yet, my heart was as prideful as they come.

As I have written before, last year I intentionally DIDN’T read my Bible through.  I spent the entire year in John.  Reading a verse at a sitting, instead of many chapters.  It was hard.  Incredibly hard, I felt a nagging voice in my head telling me that I wasn’t achieving enough for God.  But, for the first time, I was talking openly about my faith.  I started speaking with a spiritual director.  I started this blog.  I forced myself to say out loud that I have read the Bible all the way though.

And as I let the light in, I see my faith for what it is.  Strong.  Ordinary.  Treasured.  Human.  SO much more dependent on God’s faithfulness to me than mine to Him.

IMG_6647As the year began to draw to a close, I found myself wondering what was next.  Read another book?  Slow or fast?  What was I to do?  And then God answered.  I was meeting with a girl from the youth group, and she was asking me about how to read the Word of God.  We decided to read the Bible this year together.  Meeting every few weeks to talk about it.  Devotion, with fellowship.  Accountability.  Engaging together with scripture, and with God.

This is how our faith is meant to be.  Don’t get me wrong- our God is PERSONAL. You can’t read scripture and not see that (check Psalm 139 for proof).  But our faith is not meant to be private.  God instructs Christians as a community.  In scripture, most of the time when we read the word ‘you’, it is meant to be plural, not singular.  John Dyer explains this concept better than I can..

…Since the Protestant Reformation we’ve tended to emphasize the salvation of the individual and, with inverse proportion, downplayed God’s work in the Church as a community of people.

There are, of course, many reasons for this, but I think that two technologies (i.e. human inventions) have exacerbated the issue: (a) The technology of the book which encourages us to encounter Scripture textually in isolation rather than orally in a group; and (b) The technology of the English language (again, a human creation) which doesn’t have an agreed upon second person plural and therefore discards or hides important biblical data.

The scriptures were originally shared orally, told from parents to children, passed along in community.  Then, the New Testament was written, primarily in letter form… intended to be read aloud in church, and then passed along to other communities of believers.  With invention of the printing press, the Bible was put into the hands of the individual.  A priceless gift, don’t get me wrong, but one that can make us forget that we are to practice our faith in community.

So my resolution this year is to read my Bible.  In community.  In fact, I have begun reading it at the breakfast table, with my two kids right there.  So that they can see their mother read the Word of God.  And I am going to talk about it.  With my teenage friend.  And with others.  I am going to dive deeper into friendships, say the hard and vulnerable things, and try and allow others to really know me.  I am going to continue with Spiritual Direction.  In sum, continue to have a PERSONAL faith, but no longer make it PRIVATE.  It’s scary.  But here I go… IMG_6701

the Garden

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Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples.
John 18:2

A lot of times I get the feeling that I am an expert on Jesus.  After all, I have been a lifelong Christian.  I have read the Gospels.  I can spout couplets from the Sermon on the Mount, and I have heard the teachings of Jesus discussed in countless sermons, books, Sunday school lessons, small group conversations.

But all I know of Jesus is what is printed in the Bible.  The disciples knew the real man.  Spent countless hours with him.  Judas knew to find Jesus in the garden, because Jesus was there so often.  It was their ‘place.’

photo (8)Where is your place with God?  

Do you have a ‘holy chair’, a regular meeting place where you go to be in God’s presence?  While that piece of furniture or corner of your house may not be holy in itself, the moments created there are.  I think that there is a great value to ritual.  Research has shown that our recall ability is improved when we are in a similar context as we were when the memory was made.  But  I would make the argument that we can condition our minds to focus as well.  Returning to the same spot, brewing the same mug of hot tea, murmuring the same prayer, all these can serve as markers for our minds, prompts to put us in a mental space to encounter the Holy.

Who do you meet with on a regular basis?

If you know me, this is a drum that I beat often.  Perhaps it is because I work at a church, and so Sunday mornings are often work days for me, but I really feel that my small groups are where I grow in my faith the most.  Sitting with a group of trusted people and wrestling with the Word together.  Talking through the real life struggles of being a wife and a mother and a worker and a Christian.  Admitting when we don’t know things, and working together to find God’s truth.  I think Jesus met regularly with his disciples because this is how we grow.  So who do you meet with?