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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Fake Busy

You know what I am tired of hearing myself talk about?  How busy I am.  Yes.  I do a bunch of stuff.  But yes- I have the same 24 hours in a day that everyone else has.  And, just like everyone else, I get to choose how I spend it!  So why do I get stuck in this cycle of complaining about how little time I have like my own schedule is something that is happening TO me?

I chose this!

Half the things I find myself racing around to do are things that my husband calls ‘fake busy’… burning items on my to do list that I just made up out of my head that I need to get done.  Since when is buying a new pack of athletic socks an emergency?  It sure seemed couponthat way to me last Thursday!  Just because I have $10 loyalty rewards and a 40% coupon at AC Moore does not mean that I am required to go to that store today.  Whether or not I have painted my fireplace is actually not a life and death situation.  And yet, that’s how I live my life!  80% of the things I feel stressed about are things that I made up for myself to do.

How about you?

How often are your days filled with ‘fake busy’ items on your to do list?

How much time to you spend in front of the TV?  On social media? Disengaged with your life?

How many hidden pockets of time are being lost in your day?

I have a lot.  And as I am reflecting this Lenten season, I wonder what would happen if I invested that time more wisely?  If I lived my life intentionally, prioritizing people over things?  If I spent the hours entrusted to me engaging with my kids, calling an out of town friend, or just savoring the sweetness of my life, instead of rushing headlong into the next project I created for myself?

    Remind me that my days are numbered—
    how fleeting my life is.
 You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand.
    My entire lifetime is just a moment to you;
    at best, each of us is but a breath.” Interlude
We are merely moving shadows,
   and all our busy rushing ends in nothing.
-Psalm 39:4-6

We have a choice.  Even on the things we have to do.  Yes.  Humans need to eat, with shocking regularity.  But what if cooking a meal was an invitation into presence?  If we enjoy the scents, the smells, the colors of cooking our food, instead of rushing it onto plates?  What if time spent in the car was seen as an opportunity to pray blessings on the strangers we pass along the road?  Or to marvel at the beauty of a sunset, a tree branch, a backseat child’s laughter?

There is a difference between surviving and truly living.  We all have 24 hours.  How we spend them is an attitude of the mind.

 

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?

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

Selah

So.  I haven’t written for a while.

There are legitimate reasons why.  Work has been crazy.  Sleep has been short. I’ve been reading through 1 and 2 Chronicles (not exactly a get up a cheer part of the Bible). Emotionally, I have been in a funk.  When I drag myself (and my toddlers) through the door at night, often there is not much energy, passion, soul, left.

All those reasons sound valid.  But here is the real reason I haven’t been writing:  I have been neglecting the thing that this whole blog is supposed to be about.

Selah.

I have forgotten to Stop.  And I have forgotten to Listen.

How many days have I just plowed through without pausing even once to listen to what the Lord is trying to whisper?  How many gentle lessons have I raced through like yellow lights with my eyes fixed on the next thing?  How many joyless days have I lived recently without margin?

restI believe that the rhythms of God are like those of music.  The rests are an essential part of the melody.  The song feels incomplete without those beats of silence.  It seems fitting that the word Selah can also refer to a musical interlude… a moment to stop and reflect, an intentional break in the text.

The writers of the Psalms clearly understood that life has a pattern and a tempo.  That our days, much like our music, were meant to have stops and starts, periods of activity and periods of reflection.  This is not a concept that is given much value in today’s culture.  And yet, I get the feeling that something essential may be getting lost in the frenetic rush to the next thing.

When you are working on a project for your job- do you ever take a moment to intentionally disengage?  To step back and look at the big picture?  Or do you stare at the blue screen until the words stop making sense?  When you are with your family, do you take a moment to stop and breathe deeply and marvel- to truly see these human beings God has blessed you with?  Or do you find yourself instead trying to sneak moments to check your updates on your phone?  When you eat- do you even notice your food?  Savor the flavor, the texture of this wild and magical world?  Who else on the planet has their daily choice of global cuisine at their fingertips?  Yet I find myself spooning pad thai and queso fresco the same way I might eat oatmeal- mindlessly.

When was the last time I gave myself permission to take a beat during my day?  When is the last time I paused- to think, to pray, to marvel?  What would these stolen moments have cost me, truly?  And would it be worth the price to gain the feeling of mindfulness, to know that I am actually living my life?

Thinking of a concept like this, my proclivity is to rush to guilt.  To feel bad about the fact that I haven’t been nourishing my soul, and to resolve to add this to my ever-lengthening to do list for the next day.   But I have the feeling that the practice of selah may be one that refuses to allow me to remain in control.  That to learn how and when I need to pause and to reflect, I need to learn to listen to my life, listen to my soul.  That feels to me more like a building of awareness than a task to schedule.

It feels… intimidating.  inconvenient.  Yet also necessary.

The glorious thing is, we serve a God of new beginnings. One who wants us to succeed, and is constantly whispering encouragement and blessings over us.  I have a feeling if we take a step in faith, he will meet us more than halfway…

The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
    His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness;
    his mercies begin afresh each morning.
Lamentations 3:22-23