Monday, December 6, 2021

The Practice of Waiting


Waiting is a topic we often consider during the season of Advent. I’ve read numerous Advent meditations that talk about the importance of waiting, the need to wait, the practice of waiting as a spiritual discipline. If we faithfully practice Advent, we are brought back time and time again to the need to wait. It is part of preparing ourselves for the coming of Emmanuel each year at Christmas.

 Of course, waiting is not the favorite pastime of anyone I know. And waiting is not exclusive to Advent. We spend a lot of time waiting for things. Some might say waiting is a “necessary evil” but I wouldn’t call it that.

 I mentioned in my last blog post that I had learned some lessons from nine weeks of not being able to drive because of a broken shoulder. One of the lessons I learned, or at least became more familiar with, was waiting. I waited on the sidewalk outside my apartment most days, looking for my ride for that particular day. It gave me an opportunity to be present. I watched the trees change colors. I watched clouds in the sky. I saw different people walking down the street. I observed the work of remodeling that was happening at a building near me.

 As a child, I remember learning a rhyme about crossing the street. It began: Stop, look, and listen. Standing on the sidewalk each day, waiting for a ride, gave me the opportunity to stop, look, and listen, a practice I can do anywhere, anytime I’m waiting, if I’ll just stay awake and aware.

 There was another gift of waiting. It was a waiting that curbed impulsiveness. Because I was dependent on others to take me to the grocery store, I had to be attentive about keeping a running list of what I needed. I couldn’t simply jump in the car to pick up one or two items. It caused me to recognize how impulsive I can be. Because I had to wait, I learned to improvise or do without ingredients. Not a bad practice.

 I realized just how much time I can waste making little trips back and forth to the grocery store. I recognized that impulsivity is a barrier to imagination. When I have to wait, there is time and space for creative problem solving. That’s a practice that can apply not only to meal preparation but to other areas of life. Waiting gives space for ideas to germinate.

 As we wait during Advent, I challenge you to see this practice of waiting as creative process. Stop. Look. Listen. Improvise. Think about things differently. What can grow in you while you wait?

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

The Gift of Asking for Help

Nine weeks doesn’t sound so long, but when you are unable to drive for nine weeks, it can feel like an eternity. This was where I found myself after Labor Day weekend. A fall on my bicycle yielded a broken shoulder that took me from behind the steering wheel of my car to the passenger seat of others’ cars.

At first, the whole situation was disorienting. Between the pain and dependence on others for things other than driving, every single thing felt like a major effort, including sleep. As I figured out what I was able to do for myself, I settled into the new normal of healing.

It isn’t always easy for me to ask others for help. I know that about myself, and I admire friends who can come out and ask for what they need. Over the nine weeks I got a lot of practice in asking for help, and like working a tight muscle, it got easier over time. I anticipated that the time of being less mobile would offer opportunities for spiritual growth. Finding ease in asking for what I needed was a fruit of my time not behind the wheel.

What I know is that people want to help, and are happy to be asked. One friend actually thanked me for asking her! No one grudgingly said yes. I never felt tension, as if someone was driving me out of obligation. On the contrary, the times in cars of various friends was an opportunity to know them better, to have conversations we might not otherwise have.

There are those who say that no one will do for us what a spouse or close family member will do. This sells short the goodness of others, the willingness of others to help. What I know, after nine weeks of depending on others, is that such a view doesn’t reflect my reality. People are hard-wired to want to help others. Generosity is a natural human trait. It is a gift to be asked to help another, because it lets us flex our generosity muscle, and specific requests for help allow us to do something for another that we know they will appreciate.

Asking for help is a gift, just as much as receiving help. May you recognize this, especially if you are reluctant to ask for help when you need it.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Working for Good

 It’s been a heavy time recently. The upsurge in Covid cases and the fatigue of medical workers, the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban, Haiti’s earthquake, and tropical storm systems, and more events that are probably coming to your mind as you read this. It is easy to get swept away in the heaviness. There is much that isn’t right in the world.

Add to all of this, it’s my week to prepare a Sunday school lesson, and we’re in the midst of a month-long study of Job. Oh joy. I am tasked to teach about despair, about what we do when God is unresponsive.

All of this was on my mind this morning as I headed outside for my walk. I stopped to watch a

vivid sunrise and remembered the morning prayer I often recite, one that begins with these words: 

New every morning is your love, great God of light, and all day long you are working for good in the world.

Yes. All day long God is working for good in the world, but to see it, I have to change the way I look at things. I have to go from macro to micro, from the broad sweep of news stories to the particular—the individuals who are making a difference in many small ways.

As I neared home, I passed two homeless men in a park near my apartment. I spoke and they responded, and we had a brief conversation. One of them said, “I’m blessed,” and once again the words of my morning prayer came to mind: All day long you are working for good in the world.

I saw the man’s perspective. He is alive, he was sharing conversation with his friend, and he was enjoying a morning of pleasant weather.

I came home and read an email from an organization* I support that is active in Afghanistan. They are still there, providing care and community to the Afghan people. Their work goes on, in small yet significant ways, though they’ll never draw the attention of news outlets. They are a light shining in difficulty, and they aren’t the only light shining in Afghanistan. When I support their work, my small gift adds to the light.

It is right to lament the evil and devastation we see in the world. But we also must look past the surface and recognize that, even when it is hard to see, God is working for good in the world. Rather than wringing my hands in hopeless despair, my work is to do the small things that show faith: to speak a word of kindness, to support those on the front lines in difficult places, to be a bearer of light however I can. If we all do that, the love of God is made new every morning.


 *If you are interested in supporting the Afghan people, here is a link to the organization I mentioned.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Know Your Why

Recently I participated in a webinar for some continuing education credit. For several weeks, the notes I took have been sitting on my desk where I see them daily. At the top of my notes is the sentence: Know Your Why. The placement of the notes in my field of vision and the fact that sentence was the first thing I wrote is not the result of any intentionality on my part, but having that sentence greet me each morning has been a good reminder to me to use my time well.

 Know your why. How often do you find yourself on autopilot, on a hamster wheel of activity, without any awareness of your why? To pause and ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?” first requires that we pause. Yet pausing is not something many of us find easy to do.

 Years ago, when my children were actually children, we had a hamster. Harry the hamster was not terribly bright (though when he escaped from his cage, he was a master at eluding capture). He gave us much evidence that processing was not something his brain did very well. One way he showed us his brain capacity was that when he ran on his hamster wheel, he stuck his head out of the wheel, which meant that every half-revolution, he got bonked by the bar that ran the diameter of the wheel connecting it to the wheel’s spoke. He never learned. He never figured out to keep his head in the wheel.

 I think many of us are guilty of the same level of thinking. We just keep moving, keep running, without any thought to whether what we are doing addresses our reason for being in the world. We run, getting burned out, emotionally bonked on the head, without considering that we can change our behavior.

 It is important that we know our why. Knowing our why enables us to live balanced lives, lives in which we are awake and aware, lives in what we do fills us with energy, health, and joy rather than making us irritable, ill, and exhausted.

 One of my favorite psalms is Psalm 1. It speaks to knowing your why. Let me share the first 3 verses with you:

Oh, the joys of those who do not
    follow the advice of the wicked,
    or stand around with sinners,
    or join in with mockers.
But they delight in the law of the Lord,
    meditating on it day and night.
They are like trees planted along the riverbank,
    bearing fruit each season.
Their leaves never wither,
    and they prosper in all they do.

 When we don’t get caught up in the fray, when we don’t simply run on life’s hamster wheel, we are less likely to follow the crowd. Instead, we root ourselves in our why, and bear fruit. We live lives of meaning and direction. We know our why.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Toward Purity of Heart: Spiritual Direction

This is the final post in my series on practices that have moved me closer toward purity of heart. As a spiritual director myself, I am grateful for the practice.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Combatting Restlessness


Unfamiliar with Acedia? Even if you are, I expect you've suffered from it. It's not a medical condition! You can learn more about it, and how to counteract it in this week's video blog post.

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth

 It couldn’t have been a pleasant journey—

pregnant, possibly nauseous, wondering if she would be welcomed?

Did she know her cousin, Elizabeth?

Had they met before? If so, Mary

would have been a child, and Elizabeth, already old.

Not much different now, and yet

everything different. Two pregnant women,

bound by blood, and now, by womb, by God.

Quiet strength connecting them, living miracles within them.

The greeting melted all the stress, turned it to joy,

leaping babies, hearts and songs fill the welcoming space,

a place of belonging, a sanctuary,

a womb for these already born and yet becoming.


Thursday, May 27, 2021

A Rhythm of Reading the Psalter

What I've discovered from reading the Psalms regularly is a friendship with this book of the Bible that's our prayerbook.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Living With Intention

I have a magnet on my refrigerator with several statements that challenge me. I bought it at a time in my life when I was emotionally fragile. It encouraged me, and, a number of years later, continues to motivate me to take risks and grow.

 The very first statement on it is “Live with intention.” I’ve been thinking about that frequently, especially as life shifts yet again with the pandemic. Last year, when everything shut down, I committed to use the time as “Covid Retreat,” reflecting on what matters in my life, and what I really didn’t miss. Now, as more and more activities come back on line, the challenge for me is to be intentional about what I add back.

 I’m not alone in this. Just this week I had a parking lot conversation with a friend who was telling me all the meetings she had already attended this week (it was Tuesday) and the reason I was seeing her then was she was heading to another meeting. Yet she also talked about how much she and her husband had enjoyed last spring’s shutdown, where she could have unscheduled time guilt-free.

 Why do we have to feel guilty about having unscheduled time? I struggle with this too. And it’s why I’m particularly focused on that statement “Live with intention.” I don’t want to simply jump back into the fray of busyness because I can. Like falling in a rushing river, once I allow myself to get caught up in the flow of busyness, it’s hard to extract myself.

 To live with intention says to me that I need to be conscious about what I am doing and why I am doing it. I’m reading a book right now entitled, The Joy of Missing Out: Finding Balance in a Wired World. Though its focus is about our reliance (or maybe better said, our overreliance) on smartphones and the internet, it is causing me to think about overall balance in my life.

 At the end of the day, (in the literal sense) I want to be able to look back at how I spent my day and know what I did and why I did it. This is living with intention.

 How are you handling the increasing availability of pre-pandemic activities? Are you being intentional about what you resume? Maybe it’s a good time to consider what are the activities that truly matter to you and what is simply filler—not necessarily bad, but also not purposeful for your life and health.

 Thoreau said, “Wealth is the ability to fully experience life.” Choosing to live with intention then, makes us truly rich.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Eastertide and Change

How do the changes of Eastertide help us as we navigate the latest stage of pandemic change?

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Loving Yourself is Essential

It matters that we love ourselves, for we can't love others properly if we don't love ourselves. I hope you'll be encouraged to practice healthy self-love as a way of being a more faithful follower of Christ.


Thursday, February 18, 2021

Reshaping the Heart: A Lenten Journey


I wrote Lenten devotions for my church. You can access a digital copy here. It takes a little while to download, so consider it an opportunity to cultivate patience!

This video introduces the resource and talks a bit about Lent.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Something to Live For

Our life. . . provokes us with the evidence that it must have meaning. . . our purpose in life is to discover this meaning, and live according to it. We have, therefore, something to live for. The process of living, of growing up, and becoming a person, is precisely the gradually increasing awareness of what that something is.                                                                                            
                                                                                                    Thomas Merton

 Something to live for. I wonder how that something changes for us over time. How often do we consciously think about it in our daily round of life? Maybe the phrase only pops into our consciousness when we are shaken awake by some struggle.

 Or maybe it is a gradually increasing awareness, as Merton says, that happens in the ordinariness of life. We might think about what it is we live for from time to time—as we turn the calendar page to a new year, as we approach a milestone birthday, or when we experience a sense of restlessness with life as it currently is for us. We may wonder what it is that we are living for at such times. If we do think about what we are living for, then a follow up question is called for: What am I doing that moves me toward meaning in my life?

 It is easy to be distracted from questions about meaning and what we live for by the thrum of daily news, activities, and a thousand (or even ten) requests for assistance—good things, but must we say yes to every one of them? We are moving, always moving, it seems, but toward what goal? We have filled the hours of yet another day, but with what? At the end of the day, in the purely literal meaning of that phrase, are we any closer to awareness of what we are living for, or moving toward meaning?

 Stephen Covey, in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, speaks of getting caught up in “the thick of thin things.” As Lent approaches, I encourage you to walk with Jesus through this season, to see how he was aware of the meaning of his life, and how he lived according to it. He had something to live for, and he did. To reflect on the purposefulness with which he approached life can move us to clear away the clutter of “thin things” and focus on what it is that gives our lives meaning. What is it that you are living for?


Thursday, February 4, 2021

Restlessness (aka Acedia)

Restlessness is not unique to us in the midst of a pandemic. It's been around a long time, and we can learn how to combat it from early church leaders.