the word for 2019

Posted: January 1, 2019 in Uncategorized

Several years ago around this time, when a couple of my closest friends were on the leadership team at our church and I was not, I heard from them about a challenge from our pastor:  prayerfully come up with a “word” for the coming year.  I saw my friends wrestling with this and I chuckled when they implied maybe I should join in the struggle.  NOPE!  I had no desire to even try.  Having previously been in leadership of one kind or another for a long time, I was now in an odd space, leading nothing, and enjoying the break.  No word!  Y’all have fun with that!

Soon enough my life shifted back again to “normal,” which for me is being asked, pushed, pulled, or drawn into leadership roles for which I always think someone else is surely more qualified (it turns out to some extent leadership is more about willingness than qualification, at least in my humble opinion.)  I landed on that same leadership team and have been there ever since, and most of those years have started with me prayerfully finding my word for the year, though last year no word appeared at all.

My 2019 word showed up…oh, I don’t know…a month ago maybe.  Crystal clear, unambiguous, and oddly exciting to me, though it’s really a very unexciting word on its surface:

order

Some of you who know me primarily in my administrative role are probably like well yeah, of COURSE Karen is excited about order!  But my talent in administrative things comes as I push against my natural tendency toward chaos and procrastination – basically my superpower of admin appeared as I worked to overcome my own worst inclinations.  So honestly, the word “order” would generally be a yawner for me – necessary but the opposite of inspiring or exciting.

But I’ve felt tremors of excitement and even joy as I’ve considered in the last few weeks some of the things the word means, and as God has shown me other stuff along the way.  What I know from experience is God will amaze me throughout 2019 in opening the word up far beyond what I imagine it to be in this moment.  Still, from this more dimly-lit end of the year, I see the following:

PRAYER – I had a lot of fun in 2018 working multiple projects to grow in my own prayer life and point others in that direction as well (though mostly I find pointing others toward prayer is a lot like pushing a giant boulder up a steep hill).  This year I’ve got clarity on one simple approach – I think ORDER dictates simplicity on this front – that should work for my own prayer life and for trying to spread it around.  Doing all the YouTube videos and teaching a series of classes required a ton of writing and editing and time spent babysitting technology during uploads.  I’m trying something this year that will require less effort and more Holy Spirit.  Having fallen in love anew with liturgy and prewritten prayers, I’m going to try doing just a quick Facebook live feature of one such item most days.  Doing it as a shared project helps keep my feet to the fire – I’m less likely to crap out quickly.  And really I think MOST OF US need the help sometimes of a place to start in prayer, so we’re not just stuck on repeat/going through the motions.  So I’ll help myself and maybe help some of you (if you’re my FB friends) in keeping it new and fresh.

RELATIONSHIP  – One of the problems of being a Very Productive Person is how easy it is to let “gettin’ it done” come before time with people who matter.  I don’t spend enough time with family, and I spend even less time than that with friends, and that’s not cool.  It is my ever-increasing belief that relationship is a top priority in God’s eyes, since that’s the arena where God works almost everything out in us.  I have some thoughts about how to move forward on that in practical ways, and have taken some tiny first steps in the last couple of weeks, ‘cuz guys, if you wait until day 1 of a planned change to start changing, YOU’RE NOT EMBRACING THE CHANGE.  Start when the understanding comes, not tomorrow or next week or on some magical future date.

HEALTH –  The last 5 or 6 years, I’ve had an interesting run of health challenges, from arthritis to a series of poison ivy episodes that seemed to spin me into some auto-immune funk for a long time to debilitating fatigue that stole large chunks of a couple of years of my life, but none of that compared to the daily feeling of “maybe I’m dying right now, maybe this is a heart thing that’s gonna take me out” that I experienced for several months when gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) showed up to own the conversation.  Pain is a motivator; it has changed my relationship with food in a way that knowledge never did.

This is not a new part of the journey for me – I’ve been making radical changes in diet and exercise for about 8 years now, constantly educating myself and pushing always to do better.  I’ve gotten a lot right (while admittedly executing imperfectly), but also there was a lot to fix from a lifetime of bad habits and choices on that front that started as soon as I left my parents’ home and supervision at 18.  That base I built, of eating whatever I wanted and no intentional fitness plan, means that now 8 years into trying much harder I have come to understand that my body and my mind both fight like tigers to keep me fat and out of shape. (There’s science behind that – read up on how the human body fights to stay at the fattest it’s ever been…and it keeps on fighting for that.  The struggle is real, and is different for us who shop in the plus sizes than it is for you who never did.)

Probably part of what kicked my body into GERD was a decision I made early in 2018 to focus hard on paying down debt, which meant cutting corners everywhere possible, financially, to come up with dollars for that.  I returned our household to a different way of cooking and eating, turning back the page to my “utterly broke and desperate” days as I bought groceries and planned menus.  It’s possible to eat SUPER CHEAPLY, and I was the queen of that while raising my kids.  I pulled out all those old tricks and we ate cheaper than cheap for the first half of the year, and paid debt down relentlessly.  I’m not gonna lie, I LOVED pulling out those old recipes high in cheap fat and bad carbs – that stuff is delicious!  I ate way too much of it.  I packed on pounds, but didn’t pay attention to that ‘cuz dude, the checkbook was working out great.

Responding to GERD interrupted that destructive cycle.  ORDER now dictates making time in the schedule and room in the budget for the healthy foods I’d been focusing on for the 7 1/2 years before that.  Learning that there is some blockage in my arteries dictates that exercise can’t be a thing I SHOULD do – it has to be a consistent practice, even with the arthritis and the busy schedule factored in.  I know some practices from my amazing years of running that I can pick up and use against my own natural sloth.  Gotta choose well.

Honestly, I’m unlikely to choose well under only my own power.  In 2010-2012 I went on a cool journey of following God’s urge to let Him teach me to love my body.  There was SO MUCH POWER in the surrender I lived in that passage.  When arthritis appeared on the scene in 2013 and stole running away from me, I got mad and stayed mad for…years, really.  I definitely stopped engaging with letting God teach me to love my body, since I was mad but also filled with hate for my body, which betrayed me so harshly, it seemed, after giving me such an amazing gift in the running.  Probably the key to a better exercise practice is re-engaging in letting God teach me to love my body.  That’s surely an ORDER thing as well.

STEWARDSHIP – We ended up in kind of a nightmare situation with our 10-year-old car this year – it had been sucking up money like a vacuum cleaner, and then suddenly it needed $2500+ in repairs (and was definitely not worth that level of investment).  We bit the bullet and bought a new car, something I’d been planning for us to do AFTER that car was paid off.  I’ve just reached a point in life where I want to be able to rely on my car, and my previous practice of buying 8 year old cars was not offering reliability.  While we chose from the less expensive end of the new car spectrum, the fact remains that we now have a higher payment to manage.  ORDER dictates that my attention to all things financial will have to be more unswerving than it tends to be (oh, I do better and better over time, but I’ve still been pretty ADHD, when it comes to household finance.)

Under this umbrella also falls some “care of our household” items that I’ve been plotting and planning to take care of since we bought this house.  ORDER dictates more action.  I have a very practical idea for how to start, which boils down to JUST START – do a little bit for a set amount of time most days and let momentum build enough to carry the process.  Still, I’ll have to make room for the start.

That’s enough for a starting place.  Bring on ORDER!  I’m excited for what I know I need to do, and excited for certainty that there is much I don’t know.

And you really oughtta tell me about YOUR word for the year, if you have one.  🙂

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2018 quick analysis check in

Posted: December 26, 2018 in Uncategorized

With 2018 drawing to a close, I can’t help but show up here to do some of my year-end processing (which will most certainly be followed shortly by some processing for next year as well.)  I’m peeking at my entry this time last year, when I made my 2018 goals...and measuring here how that went.

Pouring Out 

In a way, I’ve written less this year than I have for a long time – I’ve literally done only 6 blog entries this year to date.  The primary reason for that is the consistent work I’ve done on my YouTube channel, which was one of my bigger attempts in 2018 to help point people to prayer.  It consists of 3 weekly series, all of which will come to an end effective January 1:

  • Mindful Mondays, which starts the week out by focusing in on some aspect of applying prayer life to real life
  • Wisdom Wednesdays, which picked out various Proverbs and did a little thinking about them (and tried to start the process of memorization)
  • Faithful Fridays, which models the ancient “Lectio Divina” method of listening prayer – I chose to focus in on the Psalms all year, except for December, which switched to “the Christmas story.”

So Mondays and Wednesdays still involved some writing (as in, writing scripts).  That’s a different kind of writing than my traditional overly-wordy blogs; maybe it was good for me to practice a bit more brevity, though some assured me I was still going too long with the videos as well.  What are you gonna do?  Here’s what I feel good about:  in the whole year, having set myself up for a 150-episode assignment…I have literally only missed one episode (the week we went to Audiofeed Music Festival I missed posting on Friday.)  I’ve got all but one written, recorded, and edited…the very last one has to wait for some other stuff that I need to do first.  (I feel like my year of writing every single day a few years back set me up well for consistency on this front.)

It’s been an adventure.  It wasn’t hard to come up with topics for Mondays, but I just hoped all along that my (very) few viewers understood that I don’t come as some sort of expert – just a fellow traveler, thinking aloud.  Ditto the Proverbs – heaven help me if anyone thought I was presenting a scholar’s approach.  It was just my own thoughts and questions, and I hope it helped.  And of course Fridays were my favorite – in my opinion, by far the highest value of what I was doing, being less “Karen” and more scripture/Holy Spirit – but I don’t deceive myself into thinking most of the viewing world is as excited about ancient prayer practices as I am.

The YouTube project was both encouraging and humbling.  Some people loved it and made a point to let me know.  Some folks appear to have watched it at least some of the time in “lurking” mode (no likes, no comments, etc) so that I was pleasantly shocked when they mentioned to me in person that they’d watched/been touched by it/etc.  And then a whole lot of people had zero interest, seemingly – while I expected that from the world in general, it was a little painful noting some of the folks I thought might tune in (like, if they did something, I’d check it out based on our relationship, so I assumed…) and just didn’t.  I didn’t do it to gain attention, so it’s fine…just…humbling!!

I also did a series of “classes” at my church to help point people to prayer.  I had hoped to draw some new people into intimacy in prayer, but mostly I proved to myself what I already knew:  there are a rare few folks who will turn up to anything billed as being about prayer.  So I had a ton of fun talking to mostly the usual suspects, and got to practice managing my own expectations along the way.  I also planned 2 prayer retreats (1 in summer and 1 this week) – the summer one got kind of flattened by weather (it was supposed to be a camping retreat) and a competing event I hadn’t known was coming.  The one this week, though…it promises to go better than that.  Some folks are for sure coming, and I’m SO EXCITED as I keep working along on the schedule of what we’re doing as we “pray in the new year.”  (Local folks, catch me if you’re interested!  It’s Friday night, 6-9 PM!)

Sprucing Up

I was in a bad place with my body this time last year, fighting a more or less losing battle with the fork and spoon, and struggling to work out…and feeling rotten about how much I couldn’t move well.  2018 was the year gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) came screaming onto the scene, levying a pain in my chest that really felt like “maybe this is the big one…maybe today I’ll die of a heart attack”) for days, then weeks, then months.  I hurried to the doctor on like day 2 or 3 of the pain, after reading that untreated GERD can lead to esophageal cancer, but even with medication and the most restrictive diet I’ve ever heard of, it took a long time to bring the pain down to not-feeling-like-potential-death level.  I’ve racked up quite a set of medical bills this year, working that out, and I’m not in the clear yet, but there’s good news from it:  I’ve found that extreme pain is a motivator completely unlike all the good intentions and education about possible consequences and general desire to look nice.  None of those other things could really hold me strictly to even a fairly easy diet, but chest pain?  IT DOES IT, BABY.  Without trying to lose weight, I’m losing weight.  I don’t enjoy the diet, but I’m grateful for how it relieves the GERD, and for sure I’ll take the weight loss as a side benefit.

Along the way, there was a 9/11 trip to the ER, chest pain related, that led to my introduction to my very own cardiologist, who subjected me to a nuclear stress test (not my favorite experience ever) which revealed some minor blockage in my arteries.  For now it only calls for a baby aspirin daily (if the GERD will allow it…that remains to be seen)…but it does make me feel serious about what my priorities need to be in 2019.  Namely, my health has to get moved WAY up the ladder, no matter what else has to be moved down (or out) to make that happen.  I’ve got a lot of people who love me and don’t deserve the pain of my health meltdown that could all too easily happen if I don’t get real serious here.

The other “sprucing up” thing I took on this year was real makeup – a thing I had never learned in the 51 years before that, being an “eyeliner and mascara is plenty of makeup” kind of girl.  I started not liking what I saw in the mirror, and my lovely daughter developed an interest in makeup around that time as a mental wellness thing, so I just joined her and spent WAY TOO MUCH TIME on YouTube learning things that I suppose most females learn in their teens or twenties.  It’s been fun, and I’m surprised at how much of a positive this has been for me in 2018.  Some things are just unexpected.

Soil Work

I had big plans for my garden(s) this year, and some of those did come to pass, as we added two more raised beds to the back yard.  The herb garden (which was mostly shaded and shouldn’t have worked) thrived; the other (which was mostly sunny and should have been wildly successful) was kind of “meh.”  I’ve got thoughts about what to switch up this year, so we’ll see if that improves.

My son and his wife built some truly amazing raised beds at their place this year, complete with latticework running up the side of their house.  It was FANTASTIC, and my aim is to get them here in the spring to help me set up something like that along the back of our house – I get all jittery-excited when I think about it.  That’s the life of a gardener – always dreaming up the Next Cool Idea.  I’ve got about 5 years’ worth of cool ideas for back yard projects, but I’m trying to take them one at a time.

No Word

Some years, I have a guiding word that oversees the year.  No such word emerged for 2018, and I didn’t try to force it, since I’ve got a lifetime of Big Big January Plans followed by No Follow Through to remind me that if the Lord’s not leading it, there’s really no point in going there.  (Happily, I DO have a word for 2019 already, but that’s a whole other blog.)

Too Much is Too Much

This part wasn’t on my blog that planned for 2018; it’s just a result I’m taking away.  I did A LOT in 2018 – the YouTube, the garden stuff, a lot at work, continued projects at church and new ones as well, on and on.  While I was genuinely amazed to learn exactly how much I can accomplish if I just doggedly squeeze productivity into every corner and every stray moment I can find…it  hasn’t been a healthy thing.  I’m getting worse and worse at sleeping (and for most of my life, I prized myself on what a world champ sleeper I was!)  The drive to be productive intrudes into my dreams and leaves me exhausted in the morning.  I’ve forgotten how to relax at home – I watch my husband doggedly honor his sabbath days, faithful to scripture and especially to Jewish traditions, and I am jealous.  I can’t remember how to just have a day of rest, and THAT is not in line with what scripture tells us to do or to be.  On top of that, the business of “gettin’ it done” kept me too often from spending time with family and friends, and I know for sure that relationship is one of the biggest deals there is, in God’s eyes…so stuff’s gotta shuffle.  So I’ve already begun the work of shaving some things down, and 2019 will not be another “too much” year (or at least that’s the plan – it’s gonna be serious work, recalibrating.)

I get to think about this all some more Friday night at the prayer retreat, and I’m curious what other marrow God might help me suck out of the bones of this overstuffed year.

If you’ve been here before, you KNOW I want to hear what you’re pondering, along these lines.  Tell me all about it!

 

When I last checked in, I was just about a week past my doctor handing me my new mandatory “let’s reset your acid levels” diet to try and head off as much of this gastric reflux thing as possible.  I’m now almost 60 days into following that pattern.

It’s been a ride.  I’m not gonna lie – at one point I sat at my kitchen table, looking out at my gardens and just weeping.  For real.  Fresh tomatoes just about to come on, and I can’t have them – what?!  Leeks thriving, and I can’t have even a little bit – how is THAT okay?  Lemon balm and lemongrass both getting big and beautiful, and I have no idea how they fit into the “acid profile” at all, and don’t even know who to ask?  UGH.  These things were even harder emotionally for me than the business of avoiding sweets, oils and other fats, and spicy foods.  So that one afternoon, home alone and free to feel, I just bawled.

It’s not like a death sentence or something.  Even with all the foods I CAN’T have, there are a ton of really nice things I CAN.  Being both a foodie and a pretty good cook, it’s not hard for me to come up with foods I love eating.  The adjustment is in not focusing on how many things are now forbidden.

The real battle with myself, where I finally had to make a full-on attitude decision, was while I was serving at the camp for foster kids we do every year.  The place we go has phenomenal cooks who make fantastic food every day.  It’s pretty friendly to alternative diets.  You can request gluten-free or vegetarian, and they can make that happen.  But when I presented my list of don’ts, I was quickly told they probably couldn’t accommodate that, really.  So I made a plan.  In addition to my collection of Very Healthy Snacks I’d be having while everyone else went crazy on candy, I threw in a few items that I planned to use to supplement their pretty consistent salad bar.  It seemed like it wouldn’t be that hard.

Oh man.  Did I ever meet the furthest end of my whiny, self-centered inner child.  It turned out that at most meals, I could only eat maybe one thing, which wasn’t so bad when it was oatmeal, but felt pretty rotten when it was iceberg lettuce.  I had one heck of an inner meltdown for a few days there, feeling at every meal like I had been forcibly removed from the human race.  Emotions are so dumb sometimes.

But you know what?  I never went hungry.  I repurposed some of the snack stuff to be parts of meals instead, and really I ate beautiful, incredibly healthy, nutritious, physically sustaining stuff EVERY SINGLE TIME.  There was really nothing to whine about – it was just “my flesh” screaming and pitching a fit that I couldn’t have what everyone else was having.

By the end of camp, the fight was done fought and I was past my raging resentment and pathetic pity party.  This is just where I am.  While it might be partly due to genetic predisposition, I can point pretty easily to ways I also worked myself into the corner where I currently now have to live.  I can be bitter and whiny and pout about it, or I can just deal with life as it is, and decide to be happy.  It was a bit of a fight to get here (and:  I DID WHINE), but I’m at “decide to be happy” status on it now.

And then after camp, I really felt like the Lord was leading me to finally really listen to a thing my pastor has been doing and talking about for, like, I don’t know…a year or something:  intermittent fasting.  He’s one of those “life hack” guys and is always trying the next good idea for living better, and he has talked quite a bit about this one.  Every time he has talked, I have done the mental equivalent of sticking my fingers in my ears and yelling LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU.

Who wants to fast?  I mean, like, I do it sometimes for spiritual reasons, but yo, IT’S UNCOMFORTABLE.  I don’t like uncomfortable.  I LIKE FOOD.  A LOT.

So I ignored him to the max, but then I had a few days where I heard about intermittent fasting everywhere I turned, so I stopped, sighed, and listened.  And really felt like God was pointing that direction and smiling patiently at me.

So I started.

Here’s what it is, as I practice it (I’ve heard other interpretations, but this is mine):  I choose an 8-hour window during every 24 -hour period, and that’s the only time I can eat.  Just during those 8 hours.  The other 16, I can drink as much water as I want, but no other eats or drinks.  The way that works best for my schedule is I basically eat a light breakfast, and then a mid-morning snack that is really more like “second breakfast” (my favorite hobbit thing!), and then lunch.  Since breakfast is at 7 AM, I can have an afternoon snack as long as I’m done before 3, but honestly, I almost never do.  I just stop eating after lunch.

This accomplishes some things that I know about (and probably more that I don’t):

  1. It automatically reduces the number of calories I eat – I’d have to work HARD to get as many calories in during a 6-8 hour period as I’ve traditionally gotten in during my usual 12-hour eating window.
  2. (My pastor told me this one.)  It allows my entire digestive system to take a real break from the work of digesting, for 2/3 of my hours.  This leaves room for healing (PLEASE LET MY GRD HEAL!!) and room for burning fat, as well as energy surplus that can be diverted to other body systems.
  3. It helps tame the tiger that is my unstoppable appetite.

There are some really surprising things about eating this way.

First of all, it’s not hard at ALL.  I mean, I don’t even CARE about supper.  While some of that is surely because I’ve almost completely eliminated processed sugar and processed carbs, I also feel like my body just kind of jumped on board and knows:  digestion is off duty now until morning.  No need to produce appetite.  I’m not hungry, I’m not craving, I don’t even care if others eat in front of me.  I just don’t care.  Maybe that wouldn’t be weird for you, but it’s INCREDIBLY strange for me, based on the way my body has always worked.  Once in awhile I start to want food during that time, but generally when I do I stop and listen to my body and realize:  I’m not hungry.  I just want to taste good food.  Did I mention how much I like food?!  It’s not so hard to say no, once I realize there is no hunger happening.

Secondly:  energy.  On day 3 of this way of eating, I got an extreme energy boost.  Before that, the fatigue that I had fought so hard to heal from had been creeping back, bit by bit…I had started falling asleep at my desk sometimes even when very busy and very interested in what I was doing, and I had just been feeling too tired for anything for awhile.  That was all very bad news, since it’s not really in my budget for me to go back on all of those amazing supplements that worked such miracles in my body.  But it seems that intermittent fasting (which costs zero) is doing the same thing.  I’m about 200% perkier in the morning than I was.  I’m not sleepy in the afternoons.  I still have plenty of energy when I get home after work to keep on getting stuff done.  My pastor said he got so much more energy that he had trouble sleeping for a bit…that’s not the case for me, but it’s a pretty radical improvement.

Less surprisingly, I’m losing weight.  I’m not weighing, and I won’t be, so I don’t know how much, but it is at changing-clothing-sizes level at this point.  That is not the objective (I’m beyond done on the “how can I lose weight” train) but it’s a nice side benefit.  And hey, losing weight is one of the first bits of advice given for dealing with GRD, so there’s that.

So tonight at my daughter’s house, I watched everyone else eat pizza and didn’t give a hoot.  Didn’t mind the fasting, didn’t care overly much that pizza is on my “hell no” list.  Just enjoyed the company, drank my water, and reveled that this should be so painless.

I told my pastor that when I started this, my plan had been that I would do intermittent fasting during the week, and on the weekends I would do what I want (well, relatively speaking…the GRD diet really does not permit “what I want!”)  But what I’ve found is that on the weekends, what I want is to feel as good as intermittent fasting makes me feel.  So thus far I’m sticking with it.  I’m sure there will come occasions when I need to eat dinner to be social somewhere, and I’ll figure that out when I get there.

For now, this thing is working.  I had to share, because I know I’m not the only GRD sufferer out there by far.  Maybe something I’ve shared here will be useful to you…even if it’s just the reminder that YOU CAN BE CONTENT, even when backed into a corner, even if it takes a bit of a battle to get there.

It’s possible.

Recently, I had a health issue arise, pretty suddenly, kind of dramatically, and somewhat severely:  gastric reflux.  I’ll spare you the details, but this was way beyond “heartburn,” with severe chest pain that left me spending way too much time at work clutching my chest and being quietly afraid, unable to function and really do my job right.

I hurried to the doctor after googling “gastric reflux” (when scary amounts of acid repeatedly come up into your mouth, it’s not hard to guess what’s going on) and learning that not dealing with the issue could lead to esophageal cancer.  The doc did some tests to make sure there was nothing else going on and agreed with my own diagnosis.  We have a plan and are working on it.

I wanted to keep it a secret at first, because we who are obese know that quite often when health stuff comes up, even people who like us are most likely thinking something like, “Well, you shouldn’t be so fat, and then you wouldn’t have that problem.”  Not wanting to think about people thinking that about me, my first impulse was to only tell people who needed to know.

Upon further reflection and examination of my family tree, which is extensively populated with sufferers of this malady – and not all are obese – it occurred to me obesity (while a contributor for sure) might not be the whole answer here.  Immediately a book that I love to hate (it’s about spiritual causes of physical maladies) came to mind, and I quickly changed the subject, since I’ve never once opened that book without wanting to throw it across the room, stomp on it, and perhaps burn it (it tells the truth, I just hate it, okay?)

I guess God really wanted us to have the conversation, though, as it came up while I listened in prayer:  a gentle reminder that basically every single day (perhaps without a single exception, I’m not sure) since our current president was elected, I have heard some kind of news about him that has made me viscerally, physically angry – my body has responded sharply.  Not just irritated thoughts or angry theorizing, but an actual I-feel-this-all-the-way-through-my-body anger.  So that’s….what…more than a year and a half of daily physical rage.

Could that kind of stress push a body into something like gastric reflux?  My answer would be:  duh.  Of course it could.

My natural reaction to this news would be, of course, to be mad at the president once again, for making me sick in my body.  But I’m an adult, and we adults don’t get to play the “look what you made me do” game if we are reasonably mature, self-aware, and at least somewhat mentally healthy.  I get a choice about how I respond to a world that is simply not going to change just because I am bothered by it.  My life, my mind, my body, my choice – I can make myself as sick as I want to be, and no one can stop me…but also, no one can make me.

Having said that, the answer of what to change was not immediately obvious to me.  When my pastor said in last week’s message that some of us might be idolizing our identity as “the resistance,” I had two responses at the same time.

One was:  okay, I will ask God if that’s what I’m doing, though I don’t think it is.  I will ask, I will listen, and I will accept and act on what God says about it.

The other was a series of very pointed mental questions:

  1. When early American slavery kicked in, what should the “good people” have done?  Surely SOMEBODY saw that it is evil to separate families, rape women, beat them, buy and sell them.  I don’t care that the culture was different – SOMEONE knew it was wrong.  What was their moral obligation to God in that moment?  How might things have gone differently if the good people had pushed back and not just let it roll?
  2. When early immigrants to the USA took the children of Native Americans away from them and put them in schools to take the “Indian” out of them, alienating them from their culture and separating them from their families, what should the “good people” have done?  Somebody, somebody’s mama, somewhere…they KNEW this was evil, and still it happened.  What did God want them to do?  What might have happened if they had pushed back with all their might?
  3. When Japanese Americans were rounded up and put into internment camps, robbed of their businesses and livelihoods, etc., what should the “good people” have done?  Sure, fear was running the table in that time.  But moral courage is a real thing, and SOMEONE could have had it.  What did God want the “good people” to do, in that passage?  How might our shameful history be different, if people with strong convictions had found their voices and used their power?
  4. Same questions about the Jewish Holocaust in Germany.
  5. Same questions about the Hutu & Tutsi tribes in Rwanda during that genocide.
  6. Same questions, ad infinitum, across every human atrocity in the history of mankind.

I know we’re not “there yet” to the point of starving people to near death, lining them up along trenches, and killing them to be buried in mass graves.  I get that some recoil at comparing what is happening in our country to that.  But…read history.  I read A LOT of history about these things, because when I was a kid my dad told me to learn it well, because someday people would say it never really happened…and he turned out to be right.  I read it, I study it, I hold onto the information.  I look for patterns.  What we’re doing is not at the level right now of what was done to Africans brought here into slavery or what Hitler did to the Jews.  I know.

But none of those events STARTED with the horrors.  They started with reworking the language about certain people, normalizing brutality against specified groups who “deserved it”…getting the “good people” numbed to the evil so that it could go forward.  I have no idea if that is what we’re headed for, but when I compare it to what I study, it frightens me.

I don’t want to be a “good person” who agrees with evil acts against human beings because I was lulled there by language changes and brutality normalization.  I don’t want to answer later for not trying to turn it around.

So….how to balance this?  How to do the right thing in the face of what looks frighteningly familiar to me (and to me, my faith demands that I stand against that which is familiarly evil)…and at the same time strike some “trusting God” balance that helps me not to ruin my own health with daily rage episodes?

I went to Audiofeed Festival this week with those questions tussling within me, and answers seemed far, far beyond my reach or capacity.  What’s the right thing?  What’s the right balance?  I can’t just turn off the news and pretend it’s not happening, as I don’t want to be a “good person” in another history book who let another mass atrocity go by, happy as long as I am not the object of the torture.

Audiofeed, like Cornerstone Festival that came before it, is not just a time to listen to good, non-mainstream Christian music.  It’s not just a time to reconnect with my fellow oddballs who feel like outsiders in the bigger Christian culture.  It’s not just a vacation getaway.  Oh, it’s all those things.  But it’s not JUST those things.  It is a place that refuels me, restores me, and brings me voices of counsel in the seminars and other gatherings that equip me to go back out and do another year of life in a world that is hard to navigate.

This year was no exception.  The current division and almost complete inability for varying sides of the arguments to have any kind of reasonable discourse, to work together for the common good, to think well of each other despite disagreement, to speak respectfully of one another despite different perspectives…this was the stuff of talk after talk, everywhere I turned.

Glenn Kaiser hit on the subject repeatedly, pointing out to us that God disagrees with us every day of our lives about stuff, but still loves us, still blesses us, still works with us.  Could we disagree so graciously?  He pointed to the extreme opposite ends of the spectrum, asking in his usual plain-spoken way, “Which false balance would you like to become an abomination in?  Which fruit of the Spirit am I manifesting ‘in your face’?  Why do we continue to plant flags when this kingdom is gonna fall like all the others before it?”

I could hear these words from Glenn because I’ve watched him live out his faith, serving the “least of these.”  Because I’ve heard him call evil what it is, not being mealy-mouthed to keep all sides happy, but also not looking to fight – just looking for what God requires.

“No matter what part of the body of Christ you are,” he said, “you’ve got ‘bad breath’ theologically, doctrinally, etc.  We only have partial knowledge here on earth.  Contending for the faith doesn’t mean being contentious.”

“Okay,” he urged, “You’ve received grace – how you doin’ with sharin’ it?”  He was unflinching, holding up that mirror.  “What am I imparting, when dealing with others?  Compassion?  Grace?  The love of God?  You can’t earn it!”

“The church,” he said, “thank God, is not God.  Give them, give others, the same grace and mercy that I want for me.”

I don’t exactly know what to do with that, but my first response is that I probably need to spend less time focusing on my rage at what is happening and more time praying with my heart as broken as God’s surely is.  Being mad is easier, and certainly less painful than being brokenhearted.  Brokenheartedness feels like powerlessness, while anger somehow (deceptively) feels like power.  I’m still thinking and praying through how the shift works, but I’ve got the first pieces and I’m working them with all my might.

At an interactive seminar with folks from the “Liturgist” podcast, including band members from Gungor and the hip hop artist called “Propaganda,” the call was to actively see the world from other perspectives, to step back and listen, to let the powerless have power, to vote for change.  Somehow in the mix of that and so much more, I found some practical, more local focus where I can direct my actions for change.

So I guess my plan is:  revamp the prayer and attitude approach on the national level, and revamp the action approach on the local level, and listen hard for whatever else God has in mind.  It’s not an easy plan, but it might be a recipe for both living up to what my morality and faith require, while at the same time not further ruining my own health along the way.

So there’s my self-centered perspective on the topic.  For sure it’s imperfect and quite incomplete.  May something here be helpful to you…and may I return to reread this in a year and be joyfully surprised at what God has done.

Step 1:  When I was in college, I saw a flier for a “reconciliation retreat.”  I understood that this was about race, and I was hungry to know more, to grow, to open up my world.  Having come from a very rural, extremely racially homogeneous area, I “knew of” a few black people, but knew exactly zero.  It was my senior year and a horrible financial aid package left my family living in a housing project, my first “interracial” experience.  I was stunned at how segregated we were, even living beside one another.  At the weekend retreat, I spoke about this, but I mostly listened, as I was very much in the racial minority for the moment.  Being among these beautiful women was like landing on another planet.  They talked about different things, in different ways.  Their humor was different.  Their hair care was different…something I’d never suspected.  I watched and I listened and I hungered to learn and change.  It was just a weekend, but it was a start.

Steps 2 through roughly 562:  I worked to learn about people who are not like me.  I read voraciously – books, newspapers, magazines, the internet, anything I could lay my hands on.  I studied photo essays.  I focused hard on history.  I sought out helpful TV programs, documentaries, etc.

Step roughly 563:  I worked at a domestic violence shelter, filled with an ever-changing population of women and their kids from all economic and racial backgrounds.  I did intake interviews, asking questions so heartbreaking that I’d apologize up front for asking.  I helped them set up their rooms when they came and I helped them pack to leave sometimes.  I was the rule enforcer to people who weren’t in the mood for rules.  I watched, I listened I learned.  I saw in myself that I judged things that didn’t need judging – that had no moral positive or negative.  Not wrong, just different than my own background/perspective/habits.  I saw my judgmental, small self and recoiled, fighting with all my might to peel it away from me forever.

Step 564:  I got an unplanned foreign exchange student from Switzerland.  I thought he’d be best buds with my son, but in the end it was me that he spent the most time with.  We talked endlessly, seeking to learn about each other’s cultures.  I helped him with vocabulary, referring him to urbandictionary.com for the racier stuff, much to his delight.  He taught me about his country.  I quickly figured out we couldn’t even compare our schools to his – the two were just too unlike to say, “a junior in the USA is the equivalent of ___ in Switzerland.”  I heard about his family, his school, his friends – a whole world apart from anything I’d ever known.  I took him for his first fast-food drive-thru – he’d never eaten or drank in a car.  Oh, I corrupted him with all manner of junk food (I surely owe his mom an apology – I’ve learned a lot since then!)

Step 565:  My exchange student went home when the school year was over.  Shortly thereafter, his lovely, generous parents made me the offer of a lifetime as a “small token” of their gratitude for their son’s year with me:  an all-expenses paid trip to visit them.  My world was so small, I was too afraid to drive to Chicago and fly out of O’Hare – they kindly spent the extra funds to fly me from my local, non-scary airport.  I got my passport and eventually off I went.  They were kind beyond words.  They toured me around the whole country.  It was sparkly clean – everywhere I went, it seemed like someone had just spit-shined…well…everything.  The public transit system was astonishing – no cars actually necessary.  There were no power lines beside the roads (all buried).   There were no semi trucks on the roads on Sunday.  Plants grew on all the roofs, even at the airport.  Those were just a FEW of the surprises along the way for me.  It was like being on another planet.

Step 566:  As part of our driving tour, we visited my exchange student’s father’s side of the family, who were all Italian.  It was a fairly small 2nd- or 3rd-floor apartment with the biggest dining room table I’d ever seen.  These people wanted me to like them – they had printed off my photo with my student from the internet and stuffed it in one of the photo frames on the wall.  I wanted these people to like me – I want EVERYONE to like me, but I really wanted to make a good impression with my student’s family.

But somehow, I kept causing offense without meaning to.  Early in the meal, I was offered wine and politely declined, causing the whole table to kind of give me the stink-eye – I could tell they thought I was judging their drinking.  My student’s dad explained to them what we’d discussed at their house – it was just my thing.  It wasn’t a statement.  (Honestly:  it was just that I belonged to a Southern Baptist church, and when I’d joined, the vows included a “no alcohol” clause, backed up with scripture.  I was very clear:  I did NOT agree with their interpretation of that scripture, but also alcohol had caused some real heartache to someone close to me, so I wasn’t opposed to swearing it off.  So…I didn’t drink because “I promised”…not because I had any notion that “it was wrong.”)

Anyway…back to our story.  Assurances were made that I wasn’t judging, but those assurances weren’t felt very well – this much was clear.  Later in the dinner I didn’t take enough of the antipasto, at which point I was helped to understand that this might be taken as refusing their hospitality (there were just A LOT of people at the table and I was trying to leave food for the others…!)  And then later there was conversation, and I was asked about my favorite TV shows, at which point I confessed that I didn’t do TV.  More stink-eye, with clarifying questions about specific series, all of which I had HEARD OF for sure.  I tried to answer warmly and affirmingly, but clearly they were feeling like I was quite the uptight b*tch who neither drinks nor watches TV.

The conversation turned to soccer.  Did I like it?  I confessed that I don’t care for sports.  This was when I learned from my student (while hard looks were passed among the others) that hockey is part of the Italian national identity – EVERYONE loves soccer and has a favorite team.  Not liking soccer is just not done.  Oops.

After dinner, it was time for espresso in tiny cups.  I was excited about this.  I love coffee!  As I heaped sugar into mine, someone across the table asked if I wanted cream.  Now…I was NOT going to ask for cream…but if they were offering…heck yes I wanted some!  I smiled, nodded, and said yes please.  At this point, a look of horror and panic passed between several of the women, and they all got up and left the room.  My student, laughing to himself, let me know:  one does NOT put cream in espresso in Italy.  The ladies were off finding a proper cream server and hunting down cream and there was much to-do as they did so.  My student laughed and quietly said to me, “You’re lucky they don’t shoot you where you sit for this!”  with his best just-playing face.  Oh golly.  Too late to back out now.  They brought the cream, handing it politely to me with body language that let me know I was basically a monster.  I thanked them, stirred it in and swallowed, wishing I could fall in a hole in the ground.

The conclusion of the meal was more wine and more stabby looks at the silly American lady who does not drink.  Now let me be clear:  in the midst of the dinner was also lasagna so delicious it nearly made me weep, repeated attempts by the family to make nice conversation with me, and a whole lot of funny/entertaining things.  It was NOT a misery meal.

But:  despite my desire to be pleasing, I had managed to offend these people at every turn – and I don’t believe for one moment that they came to the table wanting to be offended.  Despite the fact that Italy is a western country, despite the fact that English was one of the many languages they spoke, despite our commonality of all loving my student…I just didn’t understand this culture and couldn’t navigate it well.

Step 567:  A few years later, I pulled up stakes and left to live in an intentional community in Chicago.  Communal life was like a whole other planet.  Big city life was like a whole other planet.  I lived in one of the most ethnically diverse neighborhoods in all of Chicagoland – hearing foreign languages and meeting non-white people on the street was the norm now, but opposite as humanly possible from my upbringing.  I loved it.  I relished it.  I never wanted to leave.

And now we come to the point of this essay…what were all those steps toward?

The opening of my perspective.  The introduction and reinforcement of the idea that there are many worlds, many beliefs, many traditions, many perspectives, many habits and customs, many many many many things outside my little ideas of what the world is and how things work.

And then came step 568:  my journey of listening through the Bible in a year.  I did it first in 2016, and again in 2017, and now I’m on round 3.  I tell you this not to brag – LISTENING through the Bible is not work like reading is.  It’s SO EASY, logistically.  I tell you this to set the context:  my relationship with the Bible is changing and changing and changing again.

The first big bump was after dinner with the Italians.  I thought hard about this:  their culture is more like mine than not, and yet the gulf of understanding was so wide and so hard to navigate.  If I can’t even understand people from my time, from another western culture, who speak my language and watch the same TV shows available to me…how exactly is it that I’m so sure I can pick up my Bible, written so long ago, on the other side of the planet, in nonwestern culture with SO MUCH DIFFERENCE from ours, originally written in other languages….how exactly am I so sure that when I read a passage, I am truly understanding all that was intended at the time of writing?  How exactly can I be confident that I am hearing all the stuff the Holy Spirit is saying to me through it, when there’s SO MUCH CONTEXT there that I have absolutely zero clue about?  How exactly?  It knocked my certainty out from under me about my understanding of scripture, and I’ve never regained that certainty (really…I’m not sure I even want to).

Other stuff jiggled me along the way, but the massive bump that followed was that first year listening through the Bible.  Listening made it “real” to me in a way that reading never had.  It became less “a story” and more “actual people having actual experiences.”  I couldn’t push it away to focus on the lessons – I was forced to interact with the pain of the people in the moment.  Many times it left me yelling at God, “WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO ABOUT THAT?!”  Sometimes, some semblance of an answer came.  Often, I was left with simply:  trusting that God is good, and my lack of understanding about these passages is a lack of understanding, not an indictment of God.

So today I don’t say, “the Bible says it and I believe it.”  I don’t say that, because I have no confidence that an American in 2018 has the full context to be sure what the Bible MEANS when it says some things.  Especially one who’s not a Bible scholar or extreme historian.  Today I’m left with knowing that God is good and always with me, and that God and I are working out what I’m supposed to do with the Bible.  But for sure I don’t worship the Bible, and for sure I don’t pretend to be sure of everything I “know” from it.

It’s where I am…more and more what the Southern Baptist version of me would’ve considered a heretic.  But more and more at peace with God.  More and more not needing to have answers sewn up.

What’s next?  I don’t know.  I’ll just keep walking, and I’ll see what God’s got in mind.

(Publishing with zero edits, and letting it go!)

love meditation

Posted: February 10, 2018 in Uncategorized

1If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

Looking/feeling like the smartest person in the room isn’t a goal from God, and others can see through it even though they are generally too polite to say so.

If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing.

Being deeply, wildly, notably spiritually gifted is a consolation prize, when compared to the big-hit-lottery that is love.  Those who love are treasured when they are with us and missed when they are gone.  Not always true of those with splashy talents that impress others but also can leave others feeling less-than.

If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

Even acts of service are garbage when they are motivated by something other than love – things like the need to feel important, the desire to experience belonging, the adherence to a high ideal – all garbage when they don’t spring from love.  All the “filthy rags” of our own attempts at independent righteousness.  Without love, it is not God who gets honored.

Love is patient and kind.

Even and especially with those who are neither of the above. Even when it doesn’t “make sense.”  Even when it cuts.  Even when it costs.

Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude.

It doesn’t look for ways to “knock down a peg” those who are richer or prettier.  It doesn’t preen before those who are poorer or uglier.  It is deeply interested in the dignity of the other.

It does not demand its own way.

Even when it sure it is right.

It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.

It doesn’t look for reasons to be offended.  It views problematic interactions from a humble perspective, always allowing that it might not have the whole picture – that it might be wrong.  It lets go of old hurtful histories, rather than holding them close and caressing them.  It does the hard work, where this is the most difficult.

It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.

It does not behave badly just because it has been treated badly.  It has integrity even when surrounded by the lack thereof.

Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

Love knows that God is working, even when that work is not evident.

Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever!

All the highest and best things I treasure are garbage, where they don’t come from love.

Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture!

Certainty, this side of heaven, is for the most part a lie.  Thinking we really see the whole truth about anything is a joke.

10 But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless.

Eternity will be surprising.

11 When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.

Also when I was a child, I was 100% certain that my speech and thought and reasoning far surpassed that of my elders.  Arrogance is the biggest childish thing time has taught me to put down.  Putting it down is a daily battle.  Knowing that I haven’t completed that battle is wisdom.

12 Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.  All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.

Lord, let me so love that I needn’t hang my head in shame when that clarity finally comes.

13 Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.

My faith is very important.  My hope is very important.  Love is much more so.  Where I subjugate love to a lower level, I’m getting it wrong.

Now that I’ve gotten 2017 properly processed, it’s time to think ahead to 2018, not to make resolutions (which are made to be broken, am I right?) but to consider where I’d like to focus in the coming year.  I love this stuff.  Here’s what I’ve got in mind…

Pouring Out

I made myself a YouTube channel and this year I intend to share some spiritual encouragement there, not because I am some kind of amazing guru but because I am more faithful to a practice when I’m sharing it with others than when I simply decide to do it for myself, by myself.  My channel is called “One Beggar Telling Another,” based on the D.T. Niles quote, “Christianity is one beggar telling another beggar where he found bread.”  I’m super excited about this.  I have three things in mind on my channel:

Mindful Mondays – a focus on prayer and connectedness with God, ‘cuz when do we need that more than when we’re groaning our way back from the weekend to everyday routines?

Wisdom Wednesdays – I notice more and more that old crappy songs play themselves over and over in my head – often music I never even liked in the first place.  Terrible themes, awful ethics, deplorable decisions…no, no, no.  Frequently I sarcastically start singing it aloud to G over breakfast – that’s his cue that I’m stuck again in crappy song land.  I’ve decided to take an intentional approach toward memorizing Proverbs, in hopes that stuffing my brain with wisdom bits will push some of the old garbage out for good – worst case scenario, it gives me a good thing to shout out when the songs start the replay cycle in my head.

Faithful Fridays – we’ll see if I can pull this one off.  I did a bit of the Lectio Divina with one of my BFFs this year (with G sitting in some of the time.)  This ancient practice takes just a small bit of scripture and creates a routine for meditating on it – one can do so for hours of course, but we found that doing it for even 10 minutes consistently brought us insights and inspiration of the practical, carry-it-forward-with-you sort.  I have an idea how to do it, but I’ll have to educate myself aggressively to pull it off, as I’m not just pointing the camera at myself and speaking into it.  No promises here that this will be great or even happen at all, but golly I’m gonna have fun trying anyway!  If I get the first one up, I’ll have proven I can and then I’m more willing to say I’ll be back again.  J

You are invited to follow along for any/all of these if you like (and no offense if you don’t!)  I’ve disabled comments on the actual YouTube channel itself because YouTube comments are a wasteland of horrible mixed in with the decent folk, and I don’t need that garbage in my life – I already make up enough mean things to say about me in my own head without that kind of help.  I’ll be posting the stuff to my Facebook page, where we can discuss as we like (and where it’s easier for me to delete comments made just to be difficult – one can disagree without being an ass).

My other “pouring out” stuff is mostly at church – fun things I have planned for sharing with others.  And some not at church, which is mostly about working one-on-one with others to help them grow where I’m able to help.  I’ve also started looking in a different way into finding a personal spiritual mentor for myself (easier to pour out when also being poured into), as it is something I crave and have had exceeding difficulty finding or nailing down once I’ve found a prospect.  More on that if/when it works out.

Sprucing Up

I’m struggling hard these last few months with my body; my weight is up at it’s-uncomfortable-to-do-anything-or-nothing level, which is a threat to my health and a downer when I’m getting dressed and all my clothes hate me.  I did an food accountability email thing with a couple of friends this year; rereading what I sent out shows that my problem is not lack of education or information…just application.  I’m pondering small steps to start heading in a better direction (and I’ve started acting on that today).  No big promises here about a specific diet plan or exercise schedule (I’d break it as fast as I made it)…but I’m processing and have started on the kind of small changes that have helped me in the past.

Meanwhile, one of my closest friends said to me recently that she’s putting on makeup daily as part of the mental health battle – this when I was sharing with her that I’m starting to feel like I want to do more than my usual eyeliner, mascara, chapstick and go.  I don’t think makeup is all that and I don’t ever want to be a person who can’t be seen without it…buttt I do feel like maybe trying a little harder on that front might push me toward that better direction on other self-care items.  So maybe I’ll give it a try (that’ll of course involve shopping, which I’m not doing when it’s too cold to poke my nose out the door…so…not today, at least!)

I started being able to run again late in 2017; while the current weather isn’t conducive to the outdoor running that I prefer, I look forward to getting back to it ASAP; meanwhile I’ve got options here in my house to move enough that stairs won’t leave me out of breath – I’d like to avail myself of those options (I’m aiming for the sky, I know!)

Soil Work

We got our raised bed garden up and going in 2017; it was fairly successful.  I planted things too close together, which meant some of the bigger plants murdered some of the smaller ones by throwing shade, but it was a lot of fun.  In 2018 I am planning to put more raised beds in – basically to fill all the sunniest parts of our yard with boxes for growing veggies.  I even want to try my hand at growing greens during the winter, using a double hoop-house.  In the shade (which is most of our tiny yard), I’ve got some plans too – a permanent spot for our burn pit and a covered outdoor seating area that will double as an awesome overnight shelter during Sukkot.  Can’t do that until we get the new roof on the garage, which we can‘t do until we finish getting finances in order, so it’s kind of a domino effect.  I also have a plan for more shade-loving plants of the non-food variety for the rest of my yard, and I almost shriek with delight when I think about my plans to bring in beneficial insects to help us fight the battle.  We brought in nematodes this year, which help…but ladybugs will be way more fun to watch and interact with as we add them and their cute little houses I can install.

No Word Yet

I don’t have a “word” yet for 2018 for me – listening and praying on what that might be.  Last year’s word was PRESENT and I see its print all over what went down, even though I didn’t execute it perfectly.  I’m awfully glad I don’t have to do all the work when it comes to the year’s word – I’ll listen, I’ll name it when I hear it, and then I’ll enjoy watching what God wants to show me as I press in.

There’s more – A LOT more – that I’m dreaming about for 2018.  But these are the highlights I’m willing to put on the interwebz.  If you’ve been around much, you know how this goes – I want to hear about your plans!