Spiritual Practice

Day Four: Destination #NPCAdvent2015 #advent

 

npcadventTMSDestination

Today’s Prompt: Write about a time when you failed to reach your destination.

Solvitur ambulando is a Latin phrase that means it is solved by walking.  For so many of the problems we face in life, be they physical, mental or spiritual: solvitur ambulandoI think this is one of the reasons I love walking the labyrinth so much. The labyrinth is a walk that has three parts: walking toward the center, sitting in the center, and walking out. The shape of the labyrinth is strange but wonderful. The walk takes you near the center, far outside it and back to the middle, several times. One must focus only on the steps immediately in front, otherwise it doesn’t make sense.

I’ve walked many labyrinths and come away with different insight each time. Sometimes the insight comes right away, sometimes it comes days later. Most of the time the simple process of walking the labyrinth is meaningful…solvitur ambulando.  

They mystery of the labyrinth is, for me, in the process of walking. The destination is unclear, the journey is the destination.

I’m on a retreat with my family through tomorrow, so I’ll leave it here for today. See you tomorrow to talk about restore. 

To learn more about labyrinths go HERE.

This post is a part of the 25 days of advent writing and photos that I’m doing with my church Northwood Presbyterian Church, San Antonio. For the writing portion, I’ve just set a timer for 20-30 minutes and whatever I have at the end of the time, I post. No editing past the time limit… no worries if there are errors or if I stare at the screen for the first 15 minutes. Giving it a try. 

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Fasting During Advent: A Spiritual Practice

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Crying in the Toilet Paper Aisle

Last year during advent I went to the grocery store to get toilet paper. Doesn’t seem like something I’d remember a year later, except for the fact that I know began to cry, right there in front of the toilet paper. I can’t remember what the underlying sadness was about, but I do remember the tears began to flow when “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas” started playing really, really loud. It was late at night, probably 10 p.m., and there was nobody else around. It was me, the absurd number of toilet paper choices and Mr. Holly Jolly, on full blast.  Instant tears.

I don’t know exactly how many people for whom this story might resonate, but I suspect I’m not the only one. The holidays are challenging for a lot of people, and for a lot of different reasons. For some there are feelings of loss and grief as we remember loved ones who aren’t around. Some are far from family and wish to be near. Some are near to family that is constantly fighting. Sometimes there are additional work or social obligations that pile up and pile on. For some it’s a time of financial strain. Whatever the reason, I don’t think we talk about it enough. I think we do what I did last year when I was crying in front of the toilet paper. We take a deep breath, buy the toilet paper, and muddle through.

But what if there’s a better way?

For Christians, advent is the time leading up to Christmas. It starts this Sunday, November 29th and ends on Christmas Day. Theologically, it’s a time of waiting and preparing for the Christ child to be born anew in our hearts.

Though the culture wants advent to bright and loud, we can make it dark and quiet if we need to.

We can look at advent just like we look at lent: a time to get serious about what these seasons mean theologically.  

To do this, we need to be critical thinkers and questioners. This is different than being cynical or saying “bah humbug!” One question we might ask is is that true?  I saw an ad for diamonds that said something like “Give her the best Christmas ever.” For a fleeting moment I thought “What if I lived the type of life where my husband gave me diamonds for Christmas? I would love that!” And then I thought is that true?

All that glitters isn’t gold. All that sparkles isn’t love.

I’m starting to wonder if Christians need to think seriously about fasting during advent, just as we do during lent. If this appeals to you, I’m going to give some suggestions for types of fasts that might be useful. Let’s give them a try and report back. Let’s see if we can make advent a meaningful time of waiting for the light of the world without resorting to crying in front of the toilet paper. Here are some ideas. Do you have more?

Fast from Buying Gifts You Don’t Want to Buy

Instead of gadgets and plastic and trinkets, thoughtful notes and cards. Homemade artwork. A poem. I’ve never given or received a gift like this and felt bad about it. What if you said to your friends, “Let’s share a cup of tea (glass of wine, bottle of beer, bowl of soup) and laugh for an hour? It will be our gift to one another.” I imagine it would be one of the best gifts you could hope to receive. Gift giving isn’t bad or wrong. It’s a great way to teach children about empathy don’t think about what you want, think about what grandma would like. I’m not suggesting that everyone say no gifts ever to anyone. I am suggesting, though, that we fast from the obligatory gift giving, the giving that doesn’t bring joy, the giving that feels like work. Let it go.

Fast from Social Media (In part or altogether)

There’s a wide range on thoughts about social media and I’m definitely not in the “eww, it’s evil” camp. I love social media. I feel connected to friends far away, I have conversations with clergy colleagues around the world. I get great ideas for artwork and sermon preparation. I’ve also experienced a calm and quiet when I’ve turned it off, only used it between certain hours or taken “social media free” days. Give it a try, maybe?

Fast from your Phone

iPhone users: “Do Not Disturb” is your friend. It’s a setting on your phone where you can set it to not ring, or buzz, or beep, or ding or anything. You can even set certain “favorites” who can get through in case of emergency. Every night at 9:30 I go through a process of setting my phone to “Do Not Disturb” and also setting each app that has banner notifications (in my case text, phone and gmail) to “no notifications.” That means if I check the time on my phone in the middle of the night, there are no texts waiting to be read, no emails staring at me, no missed calls. I turn it all on in the morning and figure out what I’ve missed. It was really hard the first week or two. Now it’s become a place of peace and rest. I know people can get me in an emergency. Freedom.

Another type of mini-fast for heavy phone users (like me). Put your phone far, far away for short periods of time when you’re doing something important, like talking with a friend or playing with your children. I put mine in another room or turn it off for 15 minutes, a 1/2 hour, an hour, four hours. (Four hours sometimes sends me in to cold sweats, but I’m working on it.) I can’t control nuclear launch codes from my cell phone, nobody needs me that badly. I’m redefining urgent. Maybe you are, too.

Maybe an advent fast would mean trying one of these two disciplines every day from the first of December until Christmas Day. Turn your phone off every night at a specified time, all month. Commit to one hour of no cell phone use every day so that you can replace it with something important: being with family, reading a novel, creating art.

Fast from TV

I’ll never forget a sermon I heard from John Ortberg where he said “Nobody sits down for a couple of hours of mindless TV watching and then gets up and says ‘Man, I feel great!‘ Everyone laughed, because we knew it’s true. TV is like a drug, sometimes. We zone out, we just sit there and pass the time. It’s not that we can’t ever watch TV, but we know when it’s getting unhealthy. After I had Clayton I went through this period of TV watching that I think was truly like some sort of addiction. I would get up to nurse him, flip on the TV and just sit there, zoned out and looking at nothing, for hours. The cure for me was the radio.

Fast from Unhealthy Habits 

Maybe advent is a time, just like lent, to think about what we’d like to give up or limit in order to gain something new. Maybe the person who most needs a gift this advent is you. I started to list off some of the unhealthy habits, but it looked judgmental. don’t know what’s unhealthy for you and what you need to limit or eliminate, but I know you do. Give yourself a gift.

Other Fasting 

Maybe some of these will spark your imagination as well:

  • Fast from putting yourself down (“I’m not doing enough at work or home or relationships”)
  • Fast from driving everywhere — Can you walk or bike or take a bus?
  • Fast from paper products or excess trash
  • Fast from eating out or driving through

The point of fasting during advent is not on what you’re giving up, it’s on what you’re gaining.

So, the time with the phone in the other room is time to focus on something else. The money not spent on a gift can be given to a worthy cause, the smoothie instead of the donut helps show respect for your body. All of these things aren’t easy, they’re hard. They’re disciplines. Just like with lenten disciplines, they’re easier practiced in a community. Find a friend or partner and share what you’re giving up this advent. What do you have to lose? What do you have to gain? How will Christmas Day take on new meaning?

 

 

 

4 Gratitude Practices for Families for Thanksgiving Week (or Any Time!)

As my congregation surely knows, I believe, strongly in the benefits of gratitude and thankfulness. Research supports gratitude’s positive effects on the body, mind, and spirit, and gratitude is something that continues to be studied with lots of funding and fervor.

I keep a gratitude journal, my husband and I list things we’re thankful for on a weekly basis, and we’re working with our children to incorporate gratitude in to our daily lives. Here are some very simple things that your family might try:

gratitudetree1. Gratitude tree… There is a variation of this in Seamless Faith, but the concept is very simple: write things that you’re thankful for and stick them on branches or on a tree outside. I have a very inexpensive printable for this that you can download and  use. Easy peasy and makes a beautiful centerpiece for your Thanksgiving table.

2. Gratitude Chain – Write things you are thankful for on strips of paper and make a paper chain.

3. Gratitude Tower – Use Duplo blocks or any other building blocks and make a tower of gratitude, each thing that you’re thankful for can be one block.

4. Simple Prayers of Gratitude – THIS source has 22 great Thanksgiving quotes and prayers from a variety of places. It’s in an annoying “slideshow” format (which I don’t like at all) but the content is very good.

I also curate a Seamless Faith Gratitude Board on Pinterest that you might be interested in checking out! Good ideas, and all of the links have been checked to make sure they are not spam and contain the actual content they say they do!

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Let us Give Thanks!

4 Spiritual Practices to Reduce Anxiety and Stress #spiritualpractice #anxiety #stress

Like so many people I struggle to find peace amid stress and anxiety. Anxiety and stress take so many different forms in our lives: headaches, panic attacks, muscle tension, and on and on. Negative effects of stress on our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being are well known and researched. What to do about it? When stress and anxiety becomes overwhelming, it’s often important to consult a doctor, psychologist, psychiatrist or all of the above. The advice on this post is not meant to substitute for those important resources.  That said, here are some of the things that I use that have helped me tremendously.

headspace1. Meditation – I’ve wanted to learn to meditate for a long time but never found a system or method that helped me learn until I found HEADSPACE. Headspace is an app that teaches you, step by step, how to meditate. The first 10 lessons (10 minutes each) are free. There is a subscription service after that. I’ve been using Headspace for about 2 months now, and I love it. Give it a try!

biblejournalb2 2. Bible Art Journaling I’ve written about Bible Journaling HERE and HERE and given some tips on how to get started and what resources to use. I find that Bible Art Journaling is a great way to reduce stress and anxiety.

 

 

 

 

 

mandalacoloring3. Mandalas and Coloring Books for Adults. Adult Coloring is all the rage recently, and with good reason.  Here is a link to a nice book of mandalas, and here is a lovely one called Beauty in the Bible.

 

 

 

 

 

gratitude4. Gratitude Practices  Gratitude has many scientifically proven benefits. There are many ways to establish a gratitude practice, from writing in a journal every day, to simply jotting down five things for which you are grateful once a week. I have a journal that I write in sporadically, and Elias and I also list five things on Sunday evenings and share them with one another.

 

 

 

 

Bonus: Here are a few other things that have helped me with stress and anxiety. Maybe give them a try!

  •  Relaxation therapy (aka the best nap in the world!): When I have gone in for relaxation treatments for anxiety, the practitioner puts me on a table with cushions under my neck and knees, puts noise canceling headphones on my ears that play nature sounds, puts a lavender scented eye pillow on my eyes, and (the most luxurious part of it, for me) covers me with a  weighted blanket. I lie there and take a 30 minute luxurious relaxation nap break. I have yet to recreate this whole setup at home, but it is one of my goals, because I come out of each treatment feeling great. Your own at home relaxation spa! Give it a try!
  • I try to cut back on caffeine when I’m super stressed and add tea to the mix. One of my favorite teas recently is lavender. (Sensing a theme?) I also use lavender candles, lotion and bubble bath.

 

Those are all my tricks and tips! Happy relaxing and de-stressing!

 

FCC Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links! Happy Shopping!

 

 

Smart Phone Meditation – 4 Minute Meditation With Your Phone #spiritualpractice #seamlessfaith

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I’m glued to my phone, just like so many people. Recently I’ve been thinking about a few ways to not be. I have a few ideas rolling around in my head about how to become unglued and I’ll write a post about those sometime soon. For now, though, here’s a way to use your phone as a spiritual practice. It’s so easy!

  1. Go to your text messages. Pray, specifically, for the last five people in there, whoever they are. (One minute)
  2. Go to your photos, is there something in there that brings you joy or makes you thankful? Thank God for it. (One minute)
  3. Open up a news app or go to a news page… scroll through the headlines, praying for the issues that you see. (One minute)
  4. Open a Bible app (or use google) and read Psalm 145. (One minute.)

So easy, and so unexpected, right? We did this in our parenting class on Sunday and had some interesting discussions about it.

Source: This meditation is adapted from one that Lily Lewin did at a conference I was at awhile ago.

Parenting Practice: Write Some Goals Down… Stick ’em On the Cabinet #spiritualpractice #parenting #itsenough

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True confession: many times I don’t feel like I’m “living up to” what I should be as a parent. I know lots and lots of dads and moms feel this way, but sometimes it feels like an extra weight on my shoulders. After all… I wrote a parenting book, for crying out loud. Are my kids going to be like the cobbler’s kids who have no shoes? Am I the one who has great ideas for everybody else’s kids, but not my own?  It’s a lot of pressure, not going to lie. I read a lot about parenting. Blogs… articles… listicles… books. Sometimes I think it helps. Sometimes I know it doesn’t. For me, the struggle is not in knowing what to do, but in actually applying that knowledge. It’s like being healthy. Everybody knows that going for a jog and not eating cheese fries is healthy, but going for a jog is a lot of work, and the cheese fries are convenient.

So what helps? Well… here’s one thing that has been working for me. It’s super simple.  I didn’t do it for you (or y’all as we say in Texas). I did it for me, but since it’s working, I thought I’d share it. It’s really easy. Embarrassingly easy. Ready?

I wrote down some goals. 

I stuck them on my cabinet. 

I read them every morning while I wait (impatiently) for my coffee to brew.

That is it. Seriously. Nothing else. I don’t achieve all of the goals every day, but they’re there. It’s like parenting food for my brain. I’m going to share my goals with you, but I don’t think you should just copy them. I think you should write your own. Here are some tips that will help you:

  1. Don’t overthink them. You probably have an idea about what will help you in your parenting. In fact. I know you know what to do. Sit down and write them down.
  2. Try to frame them in the positive. Instead of “don’t yell” write “Speak calmly.” Don’t we have enough voices trying to judge us already? We don’t need to judge ourselves.
  3. No more than… say… 12. I mean… how many goals can you reasonably have? I wasn’t aiming for 10, but 10 came out. There are 10 commandments. Seems like a good number. But you can have up to 12.
  4. Just do you. Think of things that are realistic for you. I wanted to put something like “no screen time” on mine. Not realistic. My boys are going to watch Daniel Tiger every single day. I’m fine with that. I’m not judging myself against somebody else’s parenting. I’m judging myself against mine
  5. Get extra help if you need it. This is the hardest part, but if you need help with your parenting, you can get it! Find a coach. Reach out to a friend. Don’t do it alone; We’re all in this together!

There you have it. Good luck! If it helps to share yours, I’d love to see them! Post a link to your pictures here.

My goals for parenting Clayton and Samuel

  1. Look them in the eye.
  2. Notice what they are doing and talk about it.
  3. Focus on them individually and together each day.
  4. Avoid working on other things when it is our time.
  5. Include them in chores and tasks.
  6. Sing to them.
  7. Read to them.
  8. Create art.
  9. Say yes whenever possible (even creatively).
  10. Keep a quiet voice and non-towering presence.

Good luck!

Some Reflections on “It Could Be Worse…”

I often hear people who are suffering or struggling say some variation of “It could be worse.” We say it to ourselves:

  • I shouldn’t complain, at least I don’t have [some illness worse than the one we’re discussing] 
  • My problems are small compared to all of the suffering in the world. 
  • At least my child is not [the victim of some horrible fate] I shouldn’t talk about [whatever issue she is having] 

Even worse we say it (or some variation) to, or about other people:

  • Hey, at least you have your health, right? 
  • I can’t believe she’s all worked up about [whatever the person is worked up about]. Seriously. What’s the big deal? Some people have real problems. 

There are a few fundamental problems with this type of talk, in my opinion. For one, people are have different levels of sensitivity to pain in the world. What’s a big deal to one person isn’t challenging at all to another, and it’s impossible for us to know everything behind a person’s story of suffering. We hear someone getting riled up about something that seems like no big deal to us, but we don’t know the deeper trauma underneath it all. Often the real thing the person is upset about is something he or she isn’t willing to reveal to us. Human beings are infinitely more complex than the circumstances we hear about. When we tell someone that it “could be worse” (even if we don’t use those words) we’re not listening. We’re not showing compassion. It doesn’t matter if you’re a parent, pastor, teacher or friend, telling someone who needs your compassion that their problems could be worse is a quick way to get people to stop confiding in you. Saying “it could be worse” is a very quick way to shut down a conversation, and the best listeners and helpers always want to know more.

Another problem with “it could be worse” is that sometimes it does get worse. If we spend our lives saying “At least I didn’t suffer [unimaginably difficult fate]” and then that thing happens… then what? It’s not a competition. There are no suffering olympics, no grand prize for living through the most painful thing.

There’s an easy adjustment and course correction to “it could be worse” (and its many variations) and that course correction is simple: gratitude. 

When we are saying “It could be worse,” the value we’re trying to tap in to is gratitude. So instead of “At least I’m not suffering from x,y, or z” we can shift our focus to gratitude:

  • Even though I’m sick, I’m so thankful for the network of support I have. 
  • This tough time is teaching me something valuable, and I’m thankful for that.
  • I’m thankful for clean air to breathe and my warm house. 

If we’re listening to someone who says “It could be worse” about their own situation, we might consider doing two things:

  1. Validate both the sentiment that things could be worse, but also that their circumstances are valid “True, it could be worse, but it sounds like x is really affecting you. It’s ok to feel that way.”
  2. We might find ways to help bring gratitude in to the conversation.

Gratitude is one of the most powerful spiritual practices we can develop, it’s good for our physical health, our emotional health and our relationships. Rather than focusing on the negative “it could be worse,” make the subtle shift to the positive “I’m thankful because… ”  and see what you think.