grateful amazement

finding wonder…everywhere.

Beloved is the Truth

2016 was definitely One Of Those Years for me.
Maybe it was One Of Those Years for you, too?
You know, the kind of year when your score on The Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale puts you in the *very high risk of becoming ill in the near future* category.
//gulp//
The most hopeful thing I found to hang onto during the last six months of last year was that 2017 HAD TO BE BETTER.
The only way I could envision things going was UP…because…well…honestly…they couldn’t get much worse.
Could they?

So, on December 31, I made a poster with *2016* on it and then burned it to ash at the stroke of midnight…as the year turned, it burned.
It was a symbolic, fiery, and final end to one of the most difficult years of my life:
Separation after 27 years of marriage.
Unexpected, unplanned news from one of my four girlies.
Shocking, traumatic loss when my dad died suddenly and without warning – when we’d only just begun to reconcile our rocky relationship.
An unresolved health issue that took its toll both physically and emotionally.
And all of that happened in the last 180 days of 2016.

If I’m honest, 2017 hasn’t had quite the stellar start I’d hoped, but (so far) it has been less *stress-y*…for the most part. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting when the calendar page turned, but it probably had something to do with glitter, sprinkles, sparkles, and buckets of confetti…and probably all kinds of time for frequent and deep soul rest. The kind of rest that would restore and refresh and redeem…and allow me to reclaim the life I’d thought I was supposed to be living.

You know how Scripture says that the Spirit intercedes for us when we don’t know what to pray (Romans 8:26)? Well, I’m thinking He did some big fill-in-my-blanks praying in my deep need for that kind of rest because way early in 2017, I got an email about Bonnie Gray’s brand-spankin’ new book, Whispers of Rest. And I’m telling you what – if the words on those pages aren’t a direct answer to the soul-cry-level prayers the Spirit said on my behalf, I don’t know what would be.

IMG_9393

Bonnie had me – and my heart – at Hello.

‘Life has gotten noisy. My heart feels frayed.
Like a child planting a seed and forgetting where she placed it, I wonder if anything beautiful and tender can break through the soil of my heart again. I try to pray, but sometimes it’s hard to find the words.’

And then I highlighted almost. every. word. in the Introduction:

‘I struggled to sleep and felt a weariness I couldn’t shake. My heart felt restless and, tossed by a sea of critical voices, paralyzed by overanalyzing and second-guessing myself.
I lost my spark. I lost the spring in my step and the song in my heart. Peace and joy were missing. I was surviving and competent, but deep in my soul I felt tired and uninspired. I knew life was supposed to be beautiful because God loved me, but I didn’t feel like life was beautiful, even though I was thankful for everything God had done in my life.
Losing my joy made me feel ashamed, until God’s whispers of rest loved me back to life. God wasn’t ashamed of my need. God understood my longing for beauty, peace, and intimacy – and He understands your heart, too.’

Truly, even simply reading those first words – before the book actually starts – had me wondering if somehow Bonnie had snuck into my world, peeked into my soul and then recorded what she found there.

As I progressed through Part One: Being the Beloved, I found myself highlighting even more – and hoping against hope that it was possible for me to fully embrace my true identity as one named Beloved, and delighted in, by my Maker.
After the events of late-2016, I felt rubbed raw, wounded, and wrecked…feeling beloved would take a major shift in perspective.
Because, let’s be honest – when the list of Hard Things that happen to you is long and heart-rending, *victim* is what you can end up feeling way more than *beloved*.
Or is that just me?

Friend, here’s the truth each of us has to choose to face: *Victim* is easy…almost a default setting that the enemy of our souls wants us to live from.
To stay in.
If we’re stuck in *victim*, there’s not much chance we’ll be able to embrace being anyone’s *beloved*…not even God’s.
*Beloved* takes some intentionality…some purpose.
Especially when things feel hard.
Betrayal. Change. Loss.

But, friend, Beloved is the truth.
Your truth.
And mine.
No matter what last year looked like.
No matter what this year is shaping up to be.
And if, like me, you need a soul-full guide on your journey to embrace that identity, please gift yourself a copy of Whispers of Rest.
It’s a forty-day journey towards hope and healing.
Like Bonnie says, ‘A lot can happen in forty days. A new rhythm. A new heart. It’s about finding your spark again. To be the Beloved. Just as you are.’

It’s a journey toward rest that’s shaking my world.
It’s a journey that’s changing me.
Restoring. Refreshing. Redeeming. Reclaiming.
I’m guessing it’s a journey your soul needs, too.

WOR just as you are.png

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RELAX :: a blog series :: five

relax exhale{Every Tuesday this month, we’re meeting here to pull apart the word RELAX. To lean into it. To learn ways we can really practice it. And what better time than the hectic holidays to get some rubber-meets-the-road experience with it?! I’m so glad you’ve been here with me…it’s so much better to work through things like this in the company of kindreds, don’t you agree? Let’s look at the final letter: X}

Before we get too far into this today, let’s take a few minutes and close our eyes, RELEASE the tension in our shoulders, do a couple slow neck rolls, and take about five ease-y, deep breaths.
There.
Doesn’t that feel better?

I don’t know about you, but these days in between Christmas and New Year’s typically find me with a clenched jaw, a stiff neck, super-tight shoulders, and starve-my-brain-of-oxygen shallow breathing. (As well as tissue paper and boxes that still need putting away.)
Maybe I’m alone in this, but I think not.

Truly, that seized-up state is the one I’m in most days when I’m not tapped into RELAXation and its physiologic and spiritual value.
I mean, Life can be jaw-clenchingly stressful at times, amiright?

Okay.
Before I go getting us all stressed out about how stressed out we are, let’s look at the X in RELAX

Once we’ve settled into the practices of RELEASing, EMBRACing, LAUGHing, and ADJUSTing, we can add EXHALing to the mix.
And it really isn’t *rocket surgery* to figure out that the physical act of the EXHALE turns on the RELAXation response while turning off the stress one.
So, obviously, it’s a key part of the practice.

Think back to a few seconds ago when you took those five deep breaths – even if you managed only one, this applies…
Did you feel more RELAXed?

In my work with preschoolers a few years back, I got to attend a workshop on a multidisciplinary behavioral approach called Conscious Discipline. It’s a wonderfully effective collection of strategies. But, one of the big takeaways was this:
— Your Brain, a Shorthand Explanation —
Your brain is like a car.
You have a Driver’s Seat (your prefrontal cortex, the executive/problem-solving area).
You have a Back Seat (your limbic system, the connecting/emotional area).
You have a Trunk (your brain stem, the safety/survival area.)
And, to make a long (but very interesting) explanation short, when you breathe shallowly or hold your breath as when you do when you’re not RELAXed, you deprive your brain of oxygen, which essentially means that you end up trying to drive your car from your trunk.
You see, oxygen is the *magic gas* that helps you access and stay in your Driver’s Seat, your prefrontal cortex.
In other words, keeping your brain oxygenated puts you in a sweet place from which to make good choices, set upon solid decisions, even communicate in ways that are helpful not harmful.
Keeping your brain oxygenated by inhaling and EXHALing deep and intentionally helps you RELAX.

Do yourself a favor right now and take a few more big breaths.
As you EXHALE, this about this…

When God EXHALEd, life happened.
Genesis 2:7 tells us ‘…the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.’
I mean, seriously.
What more powerful example do any of us need to see just how important EXHALing is?

Here are some wise words I found on Pinterest: Trust the process, and the mercy in all of it. Think about how it is 100% okay to not know exactly what is to come, and trust that when things do come, whatever they are, that you will have the strength you need, that the right people will show up, the right circumstances and the right miracles will always happen right on time, just like they always have. Then, breathe deep and go out and live THIS day. THIS is the best and most important day of your life…”

When we talk about breathing, you know how it works, right?
In order to EXHALE, you first have to inhale.
So, here’s my question for you today…what is it that you are breathing in?
If you inhale frustration, you’re going to EXHALE stress.
If you inhale despair, you’re going to EXHALE anger.
If you inhale strength, you’re going to EXHALE wisdom.
If you inhale peace, you’re going to EXHALE hope.
If you inhale joy, you’re going to EXHALE strength.
And if you inhale love, you’re going to EXHALE kindness.

Simply speaking, friend, make sure you choose your ‘air.’
And remember that when you EXHALE, you put yourself in a beautiful position to RELAX.
It’s scientific and spiritual.

{a little programming note: I know I said we’d meet here for five weeks to pull apart ways to RELAX, to lean more fully into a soul-full life. Well, I lied. A little. I’m going to spill a few words here next week in order to put it all together. Join me?}

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RELAX :: a blog series :: four

relax adjust

{Every Tuesday this month, we’re meeting here to pull apart the word RELAX. To lean into it. To learn ways we can practice it in a very real way. And what better time than the hectic holidays to get some rubber-meets-the-road experience with it?! I’m glad you’re here…it’s so much better to work through things like this in the company of kindreds like you. It’s week four already…hard to believe, isn’t it?}

So.
The last three weeks have found us engaged in the practices of RELEASing, EMBRACing, and LAUGHing.
How are you doing?
Feeling more RELAXed yet?
(Is that a loaded question this week of Christmas?)

I’m going to be honest with you.
When I woke up this morning, I felt anything but RELAXed.
Some biggish things on my To Do List got carried over from yesterday. The things that were placed on today’s List are things I’d rather not do. And, to illustrate the point of just how far behind the 8-ball I am, let me confess here and now that my Christmas tree doesn’t have a single decoration on it. If it wouldn’t have come pre-lit, it would be a giant, dark, looming visual of my dismal scatteredness as the holidays approach.
I’m not a Grinch…I’m just a little out a balance.

And that’s why I’m grateful we’re here, looking at the A in RELAX.
Because, right now, I really, really need to practice ADJUSTing.
Maybe you do, too?

Let’s get at it…

After we’ve LAUGHed, we have to have the courage to ADJUST the things in our power that can be ADJUSTed.
If you’re anything like me, your first question is probably ‘Okay, but what are some of those things?’
Here’s my best multi-point answer…

We can ADJUST our suppositions.
Our expectations.
We really need to RELEASE them because, when we do, we make room for grace. For ourselves and for others.
Honestly, aside from practicing these pieces of RELAXing, practicing letting go of expectations has been one of the most liberating choices I’ve ever made.
I don’t know what that looks like for you, but you do.
Let. Them. Go.
And see if you don’t experience a new sense of RELAXation.

Next, we can ADJUST our schedules.
Make sure to leave some flexibility in your line items, because margin allows room for the unexpected.
And we all know that The Unexpected isn’t really all that unexpected after all, is it?
I mean, maybe the particulars of the wrenches that get thrown into our schedules vary wildly, but the fact that there are wrenches isn’t a big surprise, right?
Even the word margin magically breathes hope into my frazzled edges this morning.
And here’s a big paradigm-shifting bit of brilliance from Crystal Paine of MoneySavingMom.com that can become an ADJUSTment mantra: ‘Choose to do less and savor life more. Busyness does not equal Godliness.’

Here’s the next area we can ADJUST — our surroundings.
We all know that clutter breeds stress and chaos.
And those things are definitely antiRELAXing.
Think about this…what is your home’s mission?
Does its condition match that mission?
One of the best books I’ve ever read on home, decor, and ADJUSTing how I approach those things is The Nesting Place: It Doesn’t Have to Be Perfect to Be Beautiful by Myquillyn Smith.

Another key thing that brings us benefits from ADJUSTing is our stance.
Our opinion.
Oh, man. I could on for days about this one.
I’m thinking that neither you nor I have time for that today.
So let me just say this…
Not everything needs to be black and white.
Gripping our assumptions and judgements so tightly that they almost choke out is pretty much the direct opposite of RELAXing.
And it’s exhausting.
How do I know this?
Let’s just say that if there was a support group for people who are too opinionated, my weary family would have dragged me, kicking and screaming, to every meeting.
I’m happy to say I’m a recovering My Opinion is the Only Opinion addict, and I’ve found that ADJUSTing all those Black and Whites has made a lot more room for grace in my life.

Finally, let’s ADJUST our sight.
Our perspective.
Glennon Doyle Melton, author of Carry On, Warrior, introduced me to a great term that has helped me ADJUST the way I see things. She reminds us to put on our perspectacles.
You know.
Those glasses that help us see the bright side of things, people, situations that might normally cause us to clench, contract, and convict.
When ADJUST our perspectacles, we see things with new eyes, in new ways, and we can RELAX.
For real and for true.
Try it.

When I look at Scripture (as I often do, to make sure that when God says He’s ‘been there, done that’, He really has, so then I can just RELAX about whatever has my undies in a bunch) I find that there is a pretty long list of those who have gone before me who’ve been called to ADJUST…Moses had to ADJUST to so. many. things. – being raised in a culture that wasn’t his own, being called by God to confront Pharaoh at age 80, leading Israel through the wilderness for 40 years. And more. Jonah was given a choice of ADJUSTing or being digested by a whale. Paul not only ADJUSTed his name. He ADJUSTed his entire way of life in order to walk in the calling placed on his life.
I don’t pretend to say that any of these Bible greats ADJUSTed so they could RELAX, just so we’re clear.
I just think it’s awesome to look back and see that the practice of ADJUSTing is as old as time.
There’s a certain comfort in that, don’t you think?

Now, back to that out-of-control list of mine…
I’m going to sit down with a fresh piece of paper and ADJUST it, keeping in mind the need to RELEASE expectations, find some margin in my schedule, tidy my desk, allow for other’s thoughts and feelings, and put on my perspectacles.
And then I’m going to RELAX.
And allow myself to have a Merry Christmas.

Friend, that’s my wish for you, too.
RELEASE, EMBRACE, LAUGH, and ADJUST so you can RELAX and enjoy these precious days with your precious people.
And we’ll meet back here next week to look at the X

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RELAX :: a blog series :: three

relax laugh

{Every Tuesday this month, we’re meeting here to pull apart the word RELAX. To lean into it. To learn ways we can practice it in a very real way. And what better time than the hectic holidays to get some rubber-meets-the-road experience with it?! I’m glad you’re here…it’s so much better to work through things like this in the company of kindreds like you. Ready for this third week? It’s a fun one. I promise.}

Let’s get really real with each other here for a minute, okay?
The first two letters of RELAX – the RELEASE and the EMBRACE – have the propensity to be pretty heavy. To feel a bit challenging. To stretch us in ways that leave us feeling a bit stiff and sore in the soul.
Or is that just me?

If it’s not just me, feeling all kinds of achy and arthritic after spending the last two weeks RELEASing and EMBRACing, and you’re ready for something a little lighter…a little more fun to lean into…you’re going to love what the L in RELAX stands for.

Once you’ve RELEASEd the things that are heavy and no longer serving you, and you’ve EMBRACEd all that’s going on around and inside of you, it’s time to LAUGH.

LAUGH at yourself.
LAUGH at whatever situation you find yourself in.
LAUGH to keep from crying on those days when that’s all that’s left.

LAUGHter.
Seems sort of easy on the face of it, right?
Or maybe a bit simplistic?
I hear you.
But, friend, this is where I want to take your face gently in my hands, get real close, and whisper that it’s often in the middle of the mess that the humor is hiding.

Get quiet for a minute.
And let that sink in..
Sit with it.
Hold hands with it like a long-lost friend, if it’s been too many days since you’ve let anything tickle your funny bone.

It’s true…
LAUGHter is a big part of RELAXing.
And it’s so worth it.
Even if we sometimes have to hunt for it.

I found myself doing some Humor Hunting of my own during the my year-long chemo regimen five years ago.
And I found it in DVR’d episodes of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.
Jimmy doesn’t do it for you?
That’s okay.
There’s lots of funny television to choose from, whether you watch network, cable, satellite, or a subscription service like Netflix or Hulu.
On the computer, you can head to YouTube and Facebook. (There are lots of cats videos on both, if you’re into that sort of thing.)
On your smartphone, you can use an app like Vine.
If you’re into Real Life (*wink), try your good friends.
What’s better than LAUGHing till you cry with sweet kindreds?

Wherever you search, make sure you find a reason to LAUGH as many times a day as possible.
Because there are Actual Physical Benefits that LAUGHter brings.
Physiological aspects that make LAUGHing a huge part of RELAXing.

According to MayoClinic.com, LAUGHter’s short-term benefits include:
     +Stimulation of many organs…LAUGHing enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air; stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles; and increases the endorphins released by your brain.
     +Activation and relief of the stress response…LAUGHter fires up and then cools down your stress response and increases your heart rate and blood pressure, resulting in a good, relaxed feeling.
     +Tension soothing…When you LAUGH, your circulation is stimulated and your muscles RELAX, both of which help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress.

There are long-term effects of LAUGHter, too:
     +Improvement of the immune system…Positive thoughts (the kind that prompt LAUGHter) actually release neuropeptides that help you fight stress and, potentially, more serious illnesses. Unlike negative thoughts, which manifest into chemical reactions that can affect the body by bringing more stress in and decreasing immunity.
     +Pain relief…LAUGHing eases pain by causing your body to produce its own natural painkillers. It breaks the pain-spasm cycle that is common to some muscle disorders.
     +Increase in personal satisfaction…LAUGHter makes it easier to cope with difficult situations, and helps you foster connection with others.
     +Mood improvement…LAUGHing lessens depression and anxiety and makes you feel happier.

Yeah, maybe all these scientific reasons for LAUGHing don’t have you rolling on the floor, grabbing your sides, tears streaming down your face.
Me either, honestly.
But it seems that knowing all the good LAUGHter does can help us look for it when things feel heavy or dark or even hopeless.
Besides, I bet all my left-brain friends reading this just eat that stuff up, don’t you? *wink
I can sum all that science up – and even twist a phrase in the process – LAUGH. It does your body good.

One of my favorite authors, Holley Gerth, says, LAUGHter is our soul’s way of saying ‘I surrender to being human.’’ Isn’t that an awesome, lightness-of-being way to frame a good chuckle or guffaw?
I sure think so.

Last but definitely not least, I found the word LAUGH 38 times in the NIV version of the Bible.
You guys, it’s even in the book of Job a few times.
And, if you think you have a long list of good reasons not to LAUGH, I’d encourage you to compare your list with his. (**Spoiler alert: His list beats yours every time.**)

So this week, dear ones, as you continue to practice the RELEASE and EMBRACE parts of RELAXing, carve out some serious time to LAUGH.

LAUGH until your stomach hurts.
LAUGH until you pee your pants.
Then, once you’ve changed into something a little drier, see if you’re not just a little more RELAXed.

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RELAX :: a blog series :: two

relax embrace
{Every Tuesday this month, we’re meeting here to pull apart the word RELAX. To lean into it. To learn ways we can practice it in a very real way. And what better time than the hectic holidays to get some rubber-meets-the-road experience with it?! I’m glad you’re here…it’s so much better to work through things like this in the company of kindreds like you. This week, we’ll look at the EEMBRACE.}

A few hours after last week’s post published, I came across The Perfect Quote in relation to it, and decided I just HAD to share it with you before we move on to talking about the E in RELAX.

‘Abundance is a process of letting go; that which is empty can receive.’ ~Bryant H McGill

Isn’t that awesome? I mean, who doesn’t want to live an abundant life?

And since we’ve spent the week practicing RELEASing and letting go, we’re all ready to receive – to EMBRACE – right? *wink

Really, though, I hope that this past week found you practicing some new level of RELEASing and a different awareness of RELAXing.

As they say, awareness is the first step toward change. So Yay You!

This week, we’re going to talk about how we can now EMBRACE the things in our lives because we’ve gotten brave and RELEASEd what was weighing us down.

Dictionary.com defines EMBRACE this way: to take or clasp in the arms; press to the bosom; hug, to take or receive gladly or eagerly; accept willingly; to encircle; surround; enclose

With those ideas in mind, think about this…
How easy is it for you to EMBRACE whatever is going on around and inside of you?
To take, to clasp, to press, to hug?
To receive gladly, eagerly, willingly?

Let’s be honest.

If we’re talking about the good things – happy things like good jobs, nice belongings, cuddly babies, prayers answered in the way you’d hoped – the EMBRACing is easy.
But what about the not-so-good things?
The ones that are too hot to touch. Too sharp to clasp. Too lumpy to hug?
And the ones that rip any gladness and eagerness and willingness right out of our hearts and minds?
I know from experience that those things – those hard, pointy, bumpity things – are the very last things any one of us feels ready to EMBRACE.

Some time after I was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer in 2010, I had a conversation with my pastor about EMBRACing change. It went something like this:

Me: I think it’s possible to embrace change even when it seems negative.
Him: Hmmm. I’m not sure I know what you mean.
Me: That cancer I was diagnosed with? I would have never chosen that, but when I practiced EMBRACing the change it brought – the good, the bad, and the ugly (and believe me, there was some Real Ugly up in there) – I was open to finding and seeing the proverbial Silver Lining in it.

Friends, having cancer sucked. There is no way to sugarcoat it. I wouldn’t want to even try.
But, seriously, there were so. many. gifts. hidden in the grit.
And I would have missed them if I had kept my fists clenched in the face of it.
If I wouldn’t have been open to EMBRACing all of it.

As I thought about this part of the acrostic God whispered to me – this EMBRACing – the idea of hugging came to mind. In fact, ‘hug’ comes up as one of the first synonyms when you plug EMBRACE into the search field at Thesaurus.com.

It turns out that there’s been lots and lots of research done on the positive effects of hugging. Here are just a few things I found in a quick online search:

{from PsychologyToday.com}
~~Hugging creates feelings of security, reassures us, and alleviates stress responses to the Everyday Hard that life sometimes hands us.
~~Hugging generates positive feelings like attachment, connection, trust, and intimacy. And when we experience those feelings, we tend to feel as though we are participating fully in life.
~~Hugging offers us physical health benefits, too. It lowers the heart rate and blood pressure as well as positively affecting the body’s release of cortisol, one of the stress hormones.

{from HuffingtonPost.com}
~~Hugging makes us feel good due to the release of oxytocin that occurs when we wrap our arms around someone. When oxytocin hits our systems, it promotes devotion, trust, and bonding.
~~Hugging alleviates fears, especially existential ones, by instilling in us a sense of significance.

{from StartofHappiness.com}
~~Hugging enhances our relationships by stimulating the release of serotonin and dopamine in addition to the oxytocin we’ve already talked about, and those two neurotransmitters go a long way in deepening our feelings of connection.
~~Hugging eases depression and the feeling of tiredness that plagues so many of us in this fast-paced world.

Now, go back through that list (which is by no means exhaustive) and switch out the word *hugging* with the word EMBRACing.
And then take it one step further and imagine that what is being EMBRACEd is your life.
All of it.
In all of its gory glory.

I think there’s a good chance we experience benefits similar to the hugging ones when we EMBRACE All The Things.
The beautiful and the brutal.

BibleGateway.com says that the word EMBRACE is found 17 times in Scripture.
~~Jacob and Esau, despite their rocky and conflict-filled relationship history, eventually reconcile and EMBRACE.
~~Joseph, who was betrayed and sold by his brothers, turned around and EMBRACEd those same men. (Full disclosure – the EMBRACE came after Joseph set them up, put them in prison, and sent them away…he was only human, after all!)
~~The Israelites were often found EMBRACing other gods. (That says to me that I need to check myself before I wrap my arms around just any old thing, you know?)
~~And, in Proverbs, we are instructed and encouraged again and again to EMBRACE things like Wisdom and Justice.

Judging by this short list, it seems safe to say that the Bible shows us a variety of situations and circumstances to EMBRACE in life.

This week, as we move one step closer to that more soul-full, more RELAXed life each of us yearns for, let’s bravely and boldly EMBRACE this amazing, crazy, thrilling, sometimes even snoozy ride.
And listen, if *bravely and boldly* feels a bit too much just now, do it fearfully and hesitantly.
Because, honestly, it’s a practice and any kind of progress is meaningful and significant.

Today I choose life. Every morning when I wake up I can choose joy, happiness, negativity, pain… To feel the freedom that comes from being able to continue to make mistakes and choices – today I choose to feel life, not to deny my humanity but EMBRACE it. ~Kevyn Aucoin

 

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