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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What art teaches me about God, Part 1


This year has been a year of creating for me, and the majority of it has been visual, not written. 

Why?

I’m not sure. I just know that making something, creating beauty, even if it isn’t a masterpiece, feeds something deeply hungry in my soul. For some reason, combining form and color and meaning is a balm for me. It’s one of the few times in my day where I become fully present. Completely immersed in the thing in front of me. My thoughts stop spinning, my hand may ache and tingle from holding the brush, but my heart is in harmony. And for me, that is enough. 

Enough to know that the process of making art is important. Refreshing and life-giving to me in a way that makes me pay attention. I think for me, art may be one of the thin places, a place where the veil between the sacred and the earthly becomes blurry, a place where I encounter God. Because I sense this, I follow that trail. I allow myself to use my brush, my glue gun, my paint and my palette as instruments of worship. Worship not for the thing I am creating, but for the Creator in whose image I am formed. 

I truly believe that we, as men and women formed in the image of the Almighty God, all have a spark of creation buried within us. And when we fan that spark into flame, we bring glory to God and fullness to our souls. 

Does that make us all artists? No. (although I think we all tend to be much too quick to disavow any artistic talent- don’t get me started on art injuries…) But does that make us all creators? I would argue yes. I think each one of us has some God given ability, interest, or activity that makes our soul sing. 

We all have a handful of things that fully immerse us, and, regardless of talent or outcome, bring joy. That thing may be making art, but it also may be making an omelette. Running a 5K. Telling a killer bedtime story. Knitting a truly great sock. Keeping the busy schedules of a family singing like a symphony. You may be enamored with creating spreadsheets or balancing budgets. Perhaps your have created your home to be an oasis of peace, a welcoming place for neighbors. Whatever your thing may be, when you bring it into the world, you bring glory to the One who made you that way. 

Can I just say out loud (well, in print… on screen?) to all of us results obsessed Americans that sometimes the process is of more value than the outcome? So what if you are not the best at something? There is only one best, and guess what- it’s not you. BUT. Does that thing bring joy to you? Does it make you feel? Does it renew you, center you? 

Then do it. 

Unashamedly. 

We all seem to feel a bit abashed when we let our light shine. Yet, shouldn’t we be unashamed to do things that bring us joy? If I create art as an act of worship, then who cares what it looks like? I mean, really? If you run because you love it and it gives you mental space to encounter God, then your split time doesn’t prove your worthiness, does it? 

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 5:14-16

Who looks at a picture a child draws and critiques it? Who turns their nose up at a home cooked meal made by a loved one because it isn’t haute cuisine? So it is with us. When I really stop and look around me, the main critic I encounter is… me. And why should I dim my own light? 

So what I am saying is… go do your thing. And be awesome. Yay God. 

Why yes, I am a Christian on antidepressants…

Those of you who know me know that I am fairly private person. I am happy to share my story with anyone, but I am not the type who will shout it from the rooftops. So publishing this blog post terrifies me. But here’s the thing… I have had enough people in my life who seem surprised, disappointed, even betrayed when I mention the fact that I am on antidepressants. Someone needs to speak up. I guess that someone is me.

I have noticed there is this  thing in church culture- we are quick to affirm that other people should go to counseling, that it is OK if others are on antidepressants, but when one of us is struggling, we fall silent. It’s terribly hard to admit that you are the one who isn’t doing just fine on your own. But because of this, far too many suffer in silence. So, even though it goes against my nature to put this out here, here it is. I take a little blue pill every morning. And that is OK.

I have heard all of the arguments, doubts, questions about psychopharmacology. Isn’t taking a medication to change your emotional state covering up who you really are? Perhaps this is a thorn in your side, some way that God has created you to be. Shouldn’t you be able to pray more, trust more, eat better, do something to fix yourself? Isn’t medication the easy way out?

I remember the first time that I was truly depressed. I was a sophomore in college and I cried every day. I remember having a conversation in my dorm room and through my tears trying to explain that this wasn’t me. That I shouldn’t be crying right now. That all of this emotion wasn’t who I was. It didn’t make sense to the person I was talking to. And it doesn’t make sense today. But that doesn’t make it any less true. Depression had settled over my life like an itchy wool blanket. The me I knew myself to be was smothering underneath a thick layer of emotion that I couldn’t contain. 

But I didn’t get help then. I soldiered on. Then, a few years later, I (literally) ran half marathons around the fact that my dad was dying. I thought that exercising could cure the pain. I didn’t reach out for help. Neither did I when my first son was born and I wept through the entire first year of his life. 
It wasn’t until my daughter was born, when I felt the dreaded weight of the darkness rolling over my life again, when a trusted doctor gently suggested that I wasn’t doing just fine, that I finally reached out. And now, with a full glass of water each morning, I make a toast to life. 

  
We all know we live in a broken world. We all know that we ourselves are fallen. But when confronted with our individual brokenness, I fear that we feel pressure to fix ourselves. No one thinks that taking insulin for diabetes is cheating God’s ability to heal. People don’t judge women in childbirth for electing to have an epidural instead of enduring ‘the curse.’ But when the pain is psychic, we feel more skeptical.

I don’t feel that taking medication is limiting or changing who God created to me to be. Depression isn’t my identity. The struggle does not define me, nor does it take me deeper in my walk of faith. Instead it blunts me. It consumes me. It distracts me from this life that I love so dearly and my sweet savior who is ever present. Taking these pills, in my mind, is not walking away from a challenge set before me, it is more fully embracing the life I have been given to lead. 

So yes. I am a believer who believes in taking antidepressants. And if you are struggling my friend, if you find yourself in that deep hole, smothered by that thick blanket, trapped inside of emotions do not feel like they are yours… please.  Reach out. For counseling. For friendship. For humility and transparency. For medication, if that’s what you need. But mostly, reach out to others, and to God. This is not your burden alone to bear…

Selah. 

Cans of Veggies and Wet Feet

 It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus.  Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God;  so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
John 13:1-9

I had a bizarre dream last night.

I was being discharged from the hospital.  My room was filled with plastic bags of canned vegetables (why? who can even know) that I had to take to the car.  However, after lugging them down the stairs (in my hospital gown), I found that my car had been moved.  My friend offered to drive me around to look for the car, but in the process she kept not listening to my directions, turning the wrong way, and running into walls.  I couldn’t find my car, and my arms ached from holding up the heavy bags.  I was anxious to the point of frenzy, still woozy from my illness, and unwilling to surrender my burdens. 

And then I woke up to the sound of my one year old crying.  Now I am no dream analyst, but I can pretty much tell from this dream that I have some control issues.  And some feeling-out-of-control issues.  Starting my morning in this manner left me feeling a bit jittery, and like there was something I NEEDED to do, a small alarm ringing in the back of my mind.

And then today, I sat down to meditate on Jesus washing Peter’s feet.  As I sat in the silence and imagined that moment, I began to have some of the same reactions as Peter.

But wait- Jesus, I serve YOU, you don’t serve me!  Yes.  This sounds good.  And this is a principle I adopt more often than not when it comes to life as a disciple of Jesus.  But it is totally backwards.  When I view myself as a servant of God, and don’t first allow Jesus to minister to me, I am operating on human terms.  My service to God is earning me favor.  It keeps me feeling secure, righteous, and in control.

Laying down all my gold stars, all my good works, all my efforts, and allowing Christ to cleanse me is a powerful act of surrender.  It is saying that I can’t keep things going smoothly on my own.  There are too many cans of vegetables (I know- it’s bizarre- but let’s roll with the metaphor) and the car keeps moving.  I will never finish the task on my own.  And I am not meant to.  Because if it were possible for me to be good enough on my own, then Jesus sacrifice for me would be a cosmic waste of time.  And oh how I am in need of that sacrifice.  I need the redemption.  I need to be forced to admit that I can’t do it all by myself.  I need to be willing to be humble enough to allow God to minister to my soul- my heart, my needs.

The martyr on the Cross should always remain Christ.  When I look at my life and realize that that I am casting myself in the role of suffering servant, it’s time for a reality check.  For if I can’t humble myself and allow Christ to wash my feet, how can I possibly accept the enormity of his sacrifice for me? If I am unwilling to first be ministered to by Christ, then those who see my efforts will never see God shining through them, only the increasingly strident acts of a pretty good human.

If I keep trying to be good enough, responsible enough, DO enough to keep my life running smoothly, I will inevitably fail.  The truth is, we aren’t in control of our lives.  Sooner or later, something will happen that will prove to us beyond all doubt that WE are not in charge.  And when that happens, if all of our trust and valor is built upon our own resources, our defenses will crumble.  However, if we continually seek to submit to the tender ministrations of Christ, then we know the One who holds our future.  And we are able to stand in trust that God is sovereign, and that God is in control. Humility leads to trust, and trust leads to a deeper, truer life.

wash20feet