Don’t should on yourself. 

I should take my Christmas lights down. I mean, for crying out loud, Valentine’s Day is on Tuesday. Yet there they are – twinkling proudly in front of the whole neighborhood. And, if I am going to be brutally honest in this confession, I should probably also admit to the multiple strands of colored lights that are strung along my back deck. From Christmas twentyfifteen. That haven’t been plugged in since. Strung merrily on the deck that should also be pressure washed and repainted. I should feel guilty about this. I should put this near the top of a honey do list. But…. meh. 

I have a feeling that most of us have a long list of shoulds that confront us from the moment we pull our heads off of the pillow each morning. I should have gotten up an hour earlier to exercise. I should make the bed. I should drink less caffeine. I should take a shower. I should buy stock in dry shampoo. I should have a wholesome family moment including scripture reading and some sort of commissioning prayer each morning with my kids over a hot cooked breakfast. I should not be putting on mascara while driving my children to daycare. I should listen to that voicemail blinking on the work phone. 

All those shoulds and it’s not even 9 AM.

And even more insidious than those are all the shiny happy social media shoulds. I should take my kids to the children’s museum. I should read more. I should make my own soap. I should have friends to be drinking wine with on a Tuesday night. I should go on vacation to Mexico and take pictures of my polished toenails in a hammock. I should learn to knit. I should join the PTA or PETA or the PLC. I should be doing the 21 day fix or eating paleo or crossfitting. (Confession- I am not entirely sure what any of the last three things are). 

We spend so much of our lives shoulding all over ourselves. And, my friends, should is a dirty word. Should is a sibling to shame. Kin to guilt and insecurity and depression. When has a should in your life ever brought you a feeling of freedom? Ever come with a sense of joy? Shoulds never do. They are heavy and muddy brown. A burden, not a gift. 

And this too – most shoulds are not actual shoulds. They are not necessary to sustain life – I would posit that one could live a full happy life without bowing to many shoulds at all. 

In fact, here is a thought experiment: what if you turned all of your shoulds into coulds? Instead of I should read that book: I could read that book. All of a sudden an obligation has turned into an invitation. One that you were free to either except or decline. You could learn how to can vegetables, or you could not. By changing one tiny letter, you sweep the desk clean from stacks of imaginary burdens, and create room for possibility. 

If should is connected to shame, could is akin to whimsy. To opportunity and, dare I say it, joy. Could invites the imagination to engage. It automatically puts you in a mindset where you can decide if this is something you actually want to do… something you actually have time for. Should forces its way in, while could simply knocks and waits. 

So. Next time you discover that you are shoulding all over yourself, stop. Ask your self if this is truly something you want to do. And even if you want to do it, ask yourself if it is something that you ever actually will accomplish. I will give you a hint – if you are anything like me, starting your own garden and/or learning to quilt automatically goes in the “I’m never going to do that” category. 

Let your should turn into what it actually was all along… A could. And see if that invitation sparks joy, or anxiety.

So yes, I should take down my Christmas lights. But darn it, I like them. So shine on you gorgeous twinkly stars. Life’s too short to should your pants. 

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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?

not my story.

It’s that time of year.

The time of year when my Instagram fills up with sweaty, post workout posts.  When Facebook is filled with testimonials of the newest 137 hour fix and beetroot wonderfood shake.  I am always proud of my friends who are working to transform their bodies and their lives, but I must admit, often times these posts take me to a dark place.

A place filled with shoulds.  A place where my inner voice starts shouting about all the diets I should be on, and all the new workouts I should be trying.  Of the way my body should look, and the ways I should be spending my precious down time.  I often tell others to stop shoulding all over yourself.  It was time I took my own advice.

My history with self image is… fraught. There is a strong family history of unhealthy body expectations and practices that is ingrained into the way I view the world. Whenever I go one a diet, I am immediately transformed into a different person. One who is hyper-focused on the number on the scale.  My entire week’s success or failure hangs on the results of my weigh in.  Meal planning and denying the voices shouting in my head takes up all my mental energy.

So, a few years ago, I decided to hop off of that train.  No more diets for me.  No group exercise because frankly, I spend the entire time comparing myself unfavorably to others.  I decided to love myself, and realize that who I am is WAY more than what my body looks like or a number on a scale.

But most of all, by giving up dieting, I gave myself permission for that to NOT BE MY STORY.  I do not want my kids to grow up remembering me as a person who jumped from one diet to the next.  Someone who shied away from photographs and bathing suits.  I didn’t want my daughter to see me constantly evaluating myself on outward appearances. I wanted them to remember a mom who was joyfully present.  Who baked with them.  Who showed them how much FUN playing outside could be.  A mom who took care of herself, soul, mind, AND body- and did her best to keep the three in balance.

Does that mean I gave up taking care of myself?  No.  In fact, I have actually lost weight since stepping out of that ugly cycle.  Instead of focusing on denying myself the foods I can’t have, I focus on feeding myself well.  Of celebrating with others with cake and champagne, but also falling in love with the crisp simplicity of a salad.  I realized that exercise could be a reward for me.  That I like using my body.  But that I like to exercise alone.  To give myself a chance to clear my head and process my life.  Or to take a walk with a good friend.  For me, that’s about as sweet as life gets.  And it turns out it’s good for me too.

Should everyone quit on diets?  Of course not!  For me. they became an idol, and they chipped away at my sense of self worth.  But more than that, for me, I decided that I wanted my life to be about more than just that.  That this was a priority I was consciously putting aside.  And I feel stronger by engaging in that process. By giving myself a divine permission to walk away from that unattainable standard.  By embracing the everyday grace available to me, and recognizing my infinite worth in Christ, which is separate from the worth given to me from the outside.

fork

 

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?

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…