In with the New, Out with the Old

In an effort to be more alert and aware I’ve noticed a theme in things I’ve been reading and topics people seem to want to talk about when they are around me.  It may be a result of this being the time of year fact that most people like to look at as an opportunity to make big changes.  Everything seems to revolve around transformation.

 

Definition:  transformation (noun) træns fə mei ʃn  1.  Complete change; a complete change, usually into something with an improved appearance or usefulness.  2.  Transforming; the act or process of transforming somebody or something.  3.  Substitution or variables; the mathematical conversion of an expression, equation or function into another equivalent entity, e.g. by the substitution of one set of variables with another.  4.  Genetic change; a permanent change in the genetic makeup of a cell when it acquires foreign DNA.  5.  Cell modification; the conversion of a normal cell into a malignant cell brought about the action of a carcinogen or virus.

 

I am a firm believer that everyone falls in love with the idea of “different” but we all have some level of paralysis when it comes to implementing it.  We want improvement, resolution, transformation or some other form of change because we feel that what we have at this moment is somehow inadequate.  What we often struggle with in trying to make change happen is letting go of the comfort of what we already have in place.

When I decided to make writing a priority in my life, I read book called Page After Page by Heather Sellers.  Sellers offered her insight about good writing habits as well as how to keep going and remain passionate about your creative process.  What struck me and stuck with me years later was Sellers’ discussion about living a “writer’s life”.  Creative processes are mostly made alone and you will need to tell a lot of people “no” so you can sit your butt in a chair and actually write.  It’s difficult to implement that kind of change when it requires looking another friend or family member in the eye and telling them you can’t do what you have always done.  When you start to consider all of life’s responsibilities, like earning income and taking care of children, a change in tradition or routine is not easy!

Whatever your intended transformation is, whether it’s a creative process, a new diet or a job, it will always require some sort of revolution; a full blown overthrow of something else in your life.  I think I’m seeing God point this out to me in all of those conversations and bits of reading material I run across.  The message has been coming across loud and clear:  “Figure out what you need to let go of.”

My spiritual director asked me last week if I had any goals for the year in my walk with God.  I said I wanted an overall goal of health; not just physical health but mind, body and spiritual health.  Deciding to make a concerted effort to be healthier on all three fronts means evaluating everything and making room for those efforts.  This has required me to dig very deeply into asking why I choose to occupy my time with things that don’t contribute to the health of my mind, body or spirit.  I found a common theme; acceptance.

It seems like a lot of what I choose to do is not based on what is good for me, but it’s based on pleasing others.  A good example is my job.  I l started a new job that I love about a year ago.  I feel like I have finally found my niche in an industry I have been working in for over 20 years.  When it comes to earning a living I am happy with what I do because I get a lot of praise and acceptance for doing it.  I work a small creative aspect (marketing) in a field full of a very analytical people (financial wizards) and because most of them feel like marketing is out of their wheelhouse they appreciate me.  On top of that, I occasionally get a verbal confirmation of that (yippee!).  I’m also paid what I feel is a very fair wage for this job and the people I work for allow me flexibility to change my work schedule according to my family obligations.  WhaaaaHoooooo!

This has me willing to drive 50 miles away two to three times a week.  That’s 100 miles a day!!!  That drive is not complimentary to my goal of a healthier spirit, mind or body however every other aspect of that job is fantastic.  I find myself asking God if I am loving this job because I’m “called” to it, or am I distracted by basking in the glow of appreciation and acceptance to not realize that I’m called to be somewhere else?  I see myself reflecting back on the writing habits book and remembering that sometimes the right choice to accomplish a goal can also be the lonely, unpopular choice.

I don’t know the answer to that right now.   I do know that I’m excited to go to work for the first time in many years and right now that is trumping my meditation time, exercise time and writing time.  I found that physically I’m deteriorating (gaining weight, sleeping less etc) and I’m spiritually exhausted.  I joined a health club and started working with a personal trainer just so I have someone else holding me accountable to some sort of schedule with regard to exercise.  This too is something I need to make room for!

I will be asking God a lot of question about keeping the balance of this new page of my life.  I know this is something every human being goes through.  We all look for that balance and I would love to hear how you get direction from God in finding it!

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Resolution

Christmas and all the overnight guests, the son home from college, the extra chocolate and endless trips to the grocery story have crept to a quiet ending.   The guest returned to their homes, the laundry is piled high, the offspring sojourned back to campus and the chocolate was deposited in the office kitchen as soon as I returned to work!  I had a lovely, although, hectic holiday week.  Those stressful things that felt like they were up in the air a couple of weeks ago seemed to settle right into their proper place and work their way into holiday magic and resolve just like they are supposed to.

 

Definition:  resolution (noun) rez uh loo shuhn  1. A formal expression of opinion or intention made, usually after voting, by a formal organization, a legislature, a club or other group.  2. The act of resolving or determining upon action, course of action, method, procedure, etc.  3.  A resolve; a decision or determination.  4. The mental state or quality of being resolved.  5.  The act or process of resolving or separating something into constituent or elementary parts.

 

This next week as I reflect back on all of the celebrations and reconnections, I’m also looking forward to starting off a new year.  We will hear about resolutions and the laundry lists of great habits we should commit ourselves too for the next 12 months.  About six weeks from now we will read social media posts from our friends about their lack of ability to see through some of those commitments as well!

This year I decided to really look at what a resolution is.  I love the definitions above because they all have “resolve” in them.   Resolution is more about an ending than a beginning.  It’s about all things meeting up and coming to a conclusion.

The etymology of the world resolution originates in 14th century French.  A Latin root resolvere means “to loosen” and the original word resolutionem means “a breaking into parts”.

I have found at the end of 2014 I am just a shadow of the person that embarked on this year.  I have changed a lot. My year of mindfulness ended up being a year of allowing God to resolve those things I had always chosen to struggle with.  I had to break things apart by allowing myself to recognize my interference in their resolution in order to let them go.

So now, as I start to ponder 2015 I’m looking a resolution in a completely different way.  It’s not really a decision for me to make but an ending to be embraced and celebrated.  This is an opportunity to loosen my hold on what is not rightfully mine and embrace Love instead.  2015 is about an awareness of how God is moving in my life and about being still enough to listen and observe.

In an effort to continue down this path, next year my theme for this blog is going to be “Alert and Aware”.  This year will be a quest to intentionally look for real Love’s presence in the every day and celebrate it.  I hope you will join me in looking a little deeper and watching your resolution unfold!

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Distracted

Right now, I have a son home from college, three extra people at my house, and three more en route from the East Coast.  My house will be the epicenter for all the festivities with a big meal on Christmas Eve and another equally large meal on Christmas Day.  For the next six days my house will be anything but normal.   There will be a very large pile of shoes at the front door, plenty of dishes to wash, card games to play and late nights.  I’m definitely not complaining.  I LOVE having my family over and all the excitement that comes with seeing those people that we don’t get to visit with in person as often as we would like.  However, when it comes to having a mindful Christmas all of the excitement and distractions can be a bit of a challenge.

 

Definition:  distraction (noun) di stræk ʃən  1.  Something that diverts attention; something that interferes with concentration or takes attention away from something else.  2.  Amusement; something providing entertainment or amusement, especially something that takes the mind off work or worries and helps relaxation.  3.  Emotional upset; a state of great mental upset or emotional intensity.

 

I guess in some ways I’m enjoying all three definitions of distraction.  While, I’m distracted from my meditation practice and might have to work a little harder at focusing on the real meaning of the season, I am also feeling relaxed and entertained doing things with my family that I do not normally get to enjoy like going to movies and cooking fabulous food.  Once in a while, when I’m over tired I’ll experience the emotional upset of definition three as well.  I think for the next week what I’ll need to focus on is not a singular definition, but all three of these.  They are all blessings in one way or another.  Even getting upset can have its moments of truth and sincerity.

To me, this is always the challenge of special holidays where we are surrounded with circumstances that are outside the norm.  It’s our nature to want to revert back to a comfort level and long for peace and quiet or an empty house.  We need to meet the change with openness and a willingness to see what we can learn about ourselves.  God uses every circumstance in our lives to teach us and full houses give an overabundance of opportunities to learn!!

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It’s Inevitable

Yes, that’s right,  it doesn’t matter what else is going on, Christmas will still be here.  Even if you aren’t ready, don’t want it to come or would like it to come a week sooner, Christmas will be here next week, like it or not.  It’s inevitable.

Definition:  inevitable (adjective) in-ev-i-ta-bul – 1.  unavoidable; impossible to avoid or prevent from happening.  (noun) 1. something certain; something that is certain to happen i.e. “deciding to accept the inevitable”.

Ben Franklin was once quoted as saying “Nothing is certain but death and taxes.”  I’d like to think it might be “death, taxes and Christmas”.   It doesn’t really matter where my plans are, when it’s time….it’s time.  December 25th will get here.   Then we will all just have to roll with the punches and enjoy Christmas the way it comes to us.  Maybe with a few less Christmas cards sent, or a batch or two fewer cookies.  It’s time to enjoy it, just because it’s here, regardless of your circumstance.

This inevitable feeling was very apparent over the last couple of days.  A friend of ours passed away very unexpectedly.  If ever there was someone that would like to postpone Christmas, maybe it was this man’s family?  But can they?  Of course not!  How much more challenging will it be for them to enjoy Christmas as it greets them at this point in their life.  Not having all my Christmas ducks in a row seems pretty frivolous in comparison, doesn’t it?.   This particular family never gave me the impression that they were upset about Christmas coming.  I think they are looking forward to the comfort of family instead.  It’s opportunity, not a consequence of unfortunate circumstances.

Why do we dread the inevitable?  I think it’s because we feel like we can’t control it.  We don’t like unanticipated chaos.  I for one like a plan and when the plan isn’t followed, I freak out.  Christmas should never be an unfortunate event intruding in our already busy lives.  It should be treasured like an unexpected gift…..ready or not.

If I think about the Christmas story and the leading roles, there is only one person who had the plan.  Everyone else just fell into their parts, unexpectedly.  Joseph never planned on being betrothed to a pregnant woman.  Mary never expected to be with child.  The shepherds in their fields were completely frightened by an angel.  The wise men followed a star that moved in a direction they couldn’t anticipate.  There is only one figure in the entire story that knew the plan……

….the baby.  The tiniest, most helpless person in the whole story had the map.  He knew the directions lead to the inevitable.

The entire essence of Christmas is following the unknown.  Sometimes we meet Christmas in a place we want to be, and sometimes it finds us struggling to enjoy it.  But it always finds us.  It’s time to just embrace the Christmas plan.

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Provision

There’s a lot of stuff to do right before Christmas.  So much of it seems to put a strain on my family finances.  I always think I’m going to be prepared for the extra expenses but each year I still worry that I will have enough food, gifts and all those extras that come with celebrating.

 

Definition – Provision (noun) prə vi ʒn 1.  Supplying of something; the act of providing or supplying something.  2. Action taken to prepare for something; a preparatory step taken to meet a possible or expected need.  3. Something provided; something provided or supplies.  4. Legal clause stating condition; a clause in a law or contract stating that a condition must be met.

 

I know there are a ton of verses in the Bible about God’s ability to meet our needs in every circumstance.  But when the bank account is low and young kids are expecting a wish fulfilled from Santa Clause it’s very hard to feel secure in God’s provision.  When my boys were young, this seemed like a battle every single Christmas.  Now that I don’t have a house of Santa believers anymore, I still sometimes feel that same tension between wanting to feel confident in knowing God provides all I need and seeing a reality of a laundry list of expenses that far exceeds that balance in the bank.

What do I do?  Play the lottery and pray for a miracle?  I think what I find most helpful is to reflect back on the past.  While it’s tempting to tell myself “this happens every year!” and feel exasperated that I didn’t prepare better, the reality is Christmas comes and goes with the same wonderful celebration, good feelings and happiness despite a good or bad financial situation.  What actually “happens every year” is that everything ends up being okay.  My worries and concerns never come to fruition.

The best place to start looking for God’s provision in with my own attitude.  Feeling that infinite supply comes before finding it in its physical form.  Seeing doesn’t always find us believing. Believing needs to come first.  When I consider the fact that by December 26 of each and every year I have lived on earth there have been no regrets, bellies were full of Christmas dinner, leftovers were in the refrigerator and children were playing with their new toys.  Believing this will be true is essential to letting God’s provision be the miracle that it is each and every year.  This is the heart of faith.

 

“And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” – Matt 21:22

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Hibernation

You don’t have to know me very long to know that I love snow.  While most people complain about it, I look forward to it.  I think that snow is full of beauty and opportunity.  I’ve blogged about it a few of times.  I’ve compared it to God’s grace that perfectly covers all the ugliness of earth with a perfect white blanket.  I have also suggested that we embrace its silence and the temporary nature of snow that is completely dependent on temperature.

Another aspect of snow that I adore is the fact that it’s doing an important job in the cycle of nature.  It’s providing a much needed amount of life giving water in a period of dormancy or hibernation.

 

Definition:  hibernate (intransitive verb) hai bə neit 1.  Pass winter asleep; to be in a dormant state resembling sleep over the winter while living off reserves of body fat, with a decrease in body temperature and pulse rate and slower metabolism.  Animals that hibernate include bears, bats, and many amphibians.  2.  Become less active; to become less active, especially by staying at home rather than going out to socialize.

 

Dormant (adjective) dɔ:r mənt  1.  Not actively growing; in an inactive state, when growth and development slow or cease, in order to survive adverse environmental conditions.  2.  Temporarily inactive; temporarily inactive or not in use.  3.  Not erupting; describes a volcano that is not erupting, but not extinct.  4.  Latent; latent and able to be aroused.

 

The word hibernate actually comes from the Latin root meaning “to winter”.  When a tree lies dormant, it seems as if life has been removed.  But, the reality is life is having a regeneration and all that glorious snow is slow nourishing it with water as it melts.  It also acts as an insulator to harsh temperatures and wind.  Snow protects and feeds during a crucial period of rest.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.   Matt 11:24

We all need rest.  We all long for rest.  We all occasionally pray for rest.  It’s not only enjoyable, but required to continue living!  Especially this time of year when we tend to run around like crazy take a moment and see what it feels like to hibernate.  Take a breather.  Put up the weary feet and give up the burden of your thoughts and simply rest.  I assure you, that you will come back, blossom and grow.

reposted from 12/11/13

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Happy Sunday

This weekend marks the 3rd week of advent.  When you look at an advent wreath this is the one week where you light the pink candle instead of the purple ones.  It’s known as Gaudete Sunday.

Definition:  Gaudete Sunday  ɡˈdt – the third Sunday of Advent in the liturgical calendar of the Western Church, including the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion, many Lutheran Churches, and other mainline Protestant churches. It can fall on any date from 11 December to 17 December.  (source – Wikipedia)

 

The word Gaudete comes from the Latin word for “rejoice”.  In the early days of the church Advent was a 40 day time period of fasting similar to Lent.  However, by the 9th century, Advent condensed to its 4 week celebration that we now know.  Known as the Sunday of Joy, the third Sunday of the Advent season allowed a break in the normal fasting and other sacrifices made during the preparation season.  For example in the church the organ could be played and flowers brought in, which were otherwise missing during a fast.  Personally, people might be able to eat certain foods and in the early centuries it was common not to bathe during a fast.  Whew….joyful indeed!!

The modern church does not participate in fasting and the temporary relief of having restrictions lifted, however, it does celebrate the Joy.  This weekend we should all focus on the Joy with a capital J.  The Joy of a promise fulfilled, redemption brought to earth and the Joy of knowing the best is yet to come.

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Embrace The Quiet

At church this weekend, and for each of the weeks coming up to Christmas, parts of the readings are from the gospel of Luke.  Luke is probably the most famous accounting of the birth of Jesus.  Handle’s famous work, The Messiah, uses Luke and much about what we celebrate regarding the Three Wise Men come from Luke’s accounting as well.  As usual, I hear a reading and something pops out that I never noticed about that particular verse before.  This weekend was no exception.

 

Luke 21:27, 34“And they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap.”

 

I had just told myself that I was going to prepare my heart for a new arrival and I just read specific instructions on preparing a heart!!  I had always glanced over this verse and read that little part about “carousing and drunkenness” and thought…..”Yeah, that’s not really me.”, then just went about my merry way without thinking of how this verse applies to me.  What I never put together was the idea that by letting myself get wrapped up with the anxieties of life, my heart becomes “drowsy”.  Interesting that Luke chose this phrase and when translated it uses the words “anxiety” and “drowsy”!

It’s a definition two-for today!

 

Definition:  Anxiety (noun) æŋ ’zaiəti  1.  Feeling of worry; nervousness or agitation often about something that is going to happen.  2.  Something that worries somebody; a subject or concern that causes worry.  3.  Strong wish to do something; the strong wish to do something, especially if the wish is unnecessarily or unhealthily strong.  Synonyms:  nervousness, disquiet, worry, angst.

Definition:  Drowsy (adjective) drau zi  1.  Almost asleep; almost asleep or very lightly asleep.  2.  Causing sleepiness; tending to make somebody feel sleepy.  3. Sluggish; sluggish and dull.  Synonyms:  sleepy, lethargic, somnolent, tired.

 

When it comes to getting wrapped up with concern about things that haven’t happened yet……I excel.  I am a fantastic worry-wart!!!  It had never occurred to me that my constant fretting over this, that and the other leaves my heart so preoccupied with things that it becomes sluggish and dull, unaware and too drowsy to recognize the coming arrival.  It’s as if my heart has dined on the most fattening plate of anxiety and the tryptophan is kicking in as a lay on the couch!!

Only in the last couple of years have I felt like I made some progress on letting go of worry.  It was always my impression and even my intention to worry and concern myself with things because I thought I was “doing something” about them.  I started to realize that keeping wringing my hands over issues is actually holds back God’s ability to get to work on those things.  It’s through praying on them and then……letting them go….that we no longer let ourselves be controlled by worry.

I think my favorite part of the anxiety definition is the synonyms.  The word, “disquiet” is easy for me to dissect.   It means the opposite of “quiet”!  If I really want to wait in joyful anticipation of my beloved guest, I’m going to need to embrace the quiet and lose the worry!

adapted from original post on 12/2/12

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Love Stories

There is nothing quite like feeling loved.  Knowing that someone adores you and thinks you are worth not only their time and attention but their heart puts things in a unique perspective.  It’s something that should be treasured and sacred.  I have heard a few priests and pastors refer to both the Christmas and Easter stories as “love stories”.  Using Advent to recognize God becoming man as an incredible act of love puts our relationship with Him in a completely different category.  Before Christmas, in the Old Testament, God seems distant and separate.  But once born a man, it changes our perspective.  To see God as human allows us to recognize ourselves as His beloved.

 

Definition:  beloved (adjective) bi ’lʌv əd (predicatively) bi ’lʌvd  1. Adored; loved very much.  (noun) 1. Loved person; somebody who is loved very much.

 

Right at the center of our being all we really want is to be loved.  We might have a different idea of what that love looks like but if we stripped away the expectations and the packaging, essentially all we want is to love and be loved.  This was a big revelation for me over the last several years.  Not so much that I wanted to be loved, I think we all know that.  But the notion that every living being, from your houseplants to your dog to your crabby neighbor is essentially looking for love in one form or another.

Does this change your perspective like it did mine?  Knowing that a Love story is about you and me and our connection with everything around is life changing.

Not that long ago I had  a hard time connecting with God’s love.  It felt distant and too extravagant for my unassuming existence.  It was hard for me to imagine that not only does God love me, but thinks of me as “Beloved”.  The story of Christmas brings the reality of Love in our midst home in a concrete way.  Christmas Love is a prime example of how Love through one can be Love for all.

It’s pretty amazing, isn’t it?  Now that’s love!

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Warm Gooey Center

I love dessert.  I often select what I’m having for dinner at a restaurant based on what the dessert tray has to offer.  Give me a warm dessert with something amazing in the middle and I’m all over it!!  To me, it’s all about the prize in the middle of the cake, that warm gooey center.  YUM!

 

Definition:  center (noun) sent r  1. Middle point or part; the middle point area, or part of something that is the same distance from all edges, ends or opposite sides.  2.  Middle of circle or sphere; the interior point that is the same distance from all points on the circumference of a circle, the surface of a sphere, or the vertices of a polygon.  3.  Middle of line; the point on a line that is the same distance from both ends.  4.  Food filling; the filling of a chocolate, doughnut or other food.  5.  Main part of town; the part of a town or city where the main stores, offices and other facilities are situated.  6.  Place for particular activity; a place where a particular activity is carried on.  7.  Focus of attention; the point that is the focus of attention or interest.  8. Influential place or organization; a place, area, or group of people exerting control or influence over somebody or something else.  9.  Cluster or concentration; a place or part where something is concentrated or focused.  10.  Political moderates; those political parties or the section of a party holding views that are neither left-wing or right-wing.  11. Middle player position; in sports a player or position in the middle of the field or court, usually responsible for initiating play.

 

This is the time where our focus should be on our own center.  We can use Advent and it’s reflective nature to keep watch on what goes on inside us and listen for God’s direction.  We often let the outside world control and direct our actions.  It is when we pause for a moment and focus on our own warm gooey center that God has our full attention.  It’s there that God gives us direction, fills our hearts with love and brings peace.

I often look at the days leading up to Christmas as an analogy for that quiet meditative state that I have come to appreciate over the years.  It’s interesting that in order to fulfill the prophesy  God chose to remove Mary and Joseph from their community and take them to a remote location in Bethlehem.  We often picture Jesus being born in the dark of night, under stars and receiving the attention of a few peculiar, but contemplative visitors.

To me, this is exactly what contemplative prayer or meditation is.  It’s removing yourself from those influences and letting yourself appreciate God in the stillness and quiet.  If we really settle down, we also receive a visit in our heart from God, complete with gifts!  By focusing on the center of our heart, the center of our body (breathing) and the center of our spiritual life we end up keeping a watchful ear to God’s calling.

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