Well, it happened. All the people who were concerned about my involvement in Christian Yoga and contemplative practices were right. They clearly saw the danger ahead of me and the perilous path on which I was embarking. They must have known that yoga and silence were just gateway drugs. If I was open to such questionable activity, my judgement couldn't be trusted and certainly I would end up abandoning my faith or, worse, becoming a...gasp...liberal.
This week I found myself so deeply impacted by the love of God that I had no words. I found myself loving others so deeply I felt like an idiot. I found myself ready to abandon everything for Love.
Who am I?
While this was no sentimental, sappy, Hallmark card experience of love, it was an emotion. Or, perhaps more of a physical presence. How weird is that?
I don't want to write too much because words seem to diminish the sacredness of this transformation, but my foundation has been rocked and I'm amazed at a God who would so lovingly disassemble my prickly, protective coping mechanisms so I could fully live and love and be loved.
Today I find I'm not hiding behind my life experience or my emotional health or my spiritual resume or my well-crafted sentences. I'm a beginner again. Sitting at the feet of Jesus while he introduces me to so many I've dismissed and overlooked who may have much less external success or platform but have love in great measure.
For the first time in my life I'm beginning to understand what Paul means when he says,
" But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord."
Do you see what's happened? I started a journey some years ago and I was adequately warned that it would lead to something radical. Something unsafe. Something that would change me.
I insisted it wouldn't affect me.
I was wrong. Praise God.
If I had to do all over again (and I were much smarter) I would definitely be a neurologist--or a professional surfer. But let's stick with neurologist for the sake of this post. I am fascinated with the brain. Everything about it. The delicacy of moods and emotions and memory. How fragments buried deep in my past subconsciously affect my experiences of today. How the brain is wired for healing and how all that works together in my spirituality. Fascinating!!
With all that in mind I've been analyzing my last couple of weeks (perhaps over analyzing as I'm prone to do) and making some interesting observations.
As I mentioned (see my previous post), I've had a stellar couple of weeks. Two weeks ago I experienced five days that were not just productive, but full of great family moments, laughter with friends, good gifts and lots of highlights. Last week, I was in Hawaii. No further explanation required.
Superimposed on that reality was a spiritual practice I began again a few weeks prior. Each night before bed I spend five minutes writing down things I am thankful for that day and then direct that list as a prayer of gratitude.
So here's what I've been wondering...did I just pick the best couple of weeks of my year to begin a daily gratitude practice or did my daily gratitude practice have something to do with the outcome (or my perception of the outcome)?
I was leaning toward the former until our plane ride home from Hawaii this morning. For the second week in a row, a daily gratitude practice seemed almost silly. Designed to help me recognize God's goodness, this routine bordered on ridiculous. So much good. So much beauty. Too much to possibly even name. But I did it because I was on vacation and feeling lazy. As luck would have it, I was practicing gratitude this season, not poverty or solitude so all I had to do was express gratitude and I would be engaging in a spiritual discipline. Wasn't everyone doing this?
Apparently not. We arrived at the airport last night to discover chaos afoot. A flight back to the mainland had been cancelled and people were frantically scurrying to make other arrangements. Tired, sunburned and often hungover, this was not an ideal way to close out the day. But the levels of rage, entitlement and outright despair seemed a bit dramatic given a couple of factors:
1) They'd just spent days or weeks in one of the most idyllic locations on the planet
2) Worst case scenario, they'd have to stay a couple of extra days in this aforementioned paradise.
Was I missing something?
Don't Make Me Stay Here!
The last couple to make it on to our non-cancelled flight must have spent their time on the torture side of the island. Clearly they did not want to stay and, rumor has it, may or may not have offered to have their baby raised by natives to ensure immediate passage off Kauai.
As the distraught wife dragged her armful of baby toys , car seat, and overstuffed bags brimming with island booty behind her brave, baby--carrying husband she let out frequent sobs. "They were horrible!" She cried to anyone who would listen. Who? I wondered. The flame carrying natives? With that level of distress she must have been at a different luau than we had attended. The hapless TSA employees? The gate agents working their butts off to try to get everyone home from their hellish week?
All the other passengers seemed outraged on behalf of this young couple while I was enraged that I had to turn my music up louder to shut out all the tsk-tsking so I could get some sleep. (Clearly my practice of gratitude has not served to increase my expression of mercy. )
I'm no neurologist, but...
So, I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that gratitude makes the heart more grateful. At least for me. In his fascinating book, The Anatomy of the Soul, Dr. Curt Thompson details the stunning effect spiritual disciplines have on brain chemistry. How telling our stories to an empathic listener rewires the neuro pathways of both the teller and the listener. As he discusses brain functioning and spiritual disciplines, Thompson states that "to be...acutely aware of God's beauty in anything leads to awareness of God's beauty in everything, save that which is evil."
I think that's what gratitude is beginning to do in me. And for that, I'm thankful.
There are some great things happening in my life. Not the least of which is my 3/4 mile walk to the ocean. For this I am incredibly grateful. But there are some things I'm less grateful for. Take fog, for instance.
Mentally, I have accepted the morning fog, the more frequent clouds and accompanying rain. I've enjoyed many cozy days sitting by the fireplace, reading a good book while wrapped in a warm blanket. But I have not always been able to convince my emotions to come with me to this happy place.
Last month I trudged to my doctor to discuss the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of my anti-depressant medication. She asked some general questions, then honed in on a diagnosis. Our discussion went something like this:
Dr. Z: Have you ever noticed that you're affected by changing seasons?
Me: I lived in Phoenix for 25 years. We didn't have seasons.
Dr. Z: So you're not aware of how shorter days and less sun affect your mood?
Me: I am now.
Dr. Z: Yes, I would say you're prone to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
In other words, winter on the Central Coast bums me out. Ironically, I'm learning to rejoice in my depression (albeit, in a more subdued manner).
Give Thanks Always--Seriously!
Photo credit: ramocchia
This isn't the only situation in my life that's less than ideal. I won't go into detail, but I've been asking God a lot of questions lately. His response is, "Give thanks." That's it.
And that reminded me of Corrie TenBoom--a tremendously brave and godly woman who hid Jews in her home during WW2 and was consequently imprisoned by the Germans. In her book, The Hiding Place (which I read at age 10, leading to an irrational fear of concentration camps) she relates the story of how she learned to thank God for the fleas that inhabited their barracks.
When her sister, Betsie, suggested thankfulness was the answer to the flea problem (based on I Thessalonians 5:18), Corrie was incredulous. "I will never give thanks for fleas! " But Betsie persisted. "'Give thanks in all circumstances,' she quoted. It doesn't say, 'in pleasant circumstances.' Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.
Fog is a part of this place where God has put us.
I'm not suggesting that my experience can be compared to fleas in a prison cell. That's ludicrous. But there's a principle--a deep, freeing truth--that unites them. The reality that each part of our "where God has put us"--circumstances, brain chemistry, family, etc. is part of God's redemptive plan. An invitation to know God more deeply and be more fully conformed to his image. To see our faith increased and to make God's name great.
Betsie later discovered why the fleas were such a blessing. They were so repulsive to the guards that they wouldn't go into the big room. This allowed the women to freely pray, study the Bible and discuss faith and spirituality. The fleas were a shield.
So today I'm giving thanks for everything. I've put a note card on my mirror proclaiming, "Thank you, Lord, for the Fleas", and I'm beginning to sense an internal shift. Peace and contentedness are creeping in. And I'm learning to embrace some of the imperfection, instead of pretending it doesn't exist or trying to claw my way out of it--such a better use of my scarce energy levels.
Are there parts of your current circumstances that seem difficult to give thanks for? What would keep you from embracing the imperfect, the ugly, the painful?
Kelli is a writer, speaker and consultant equipping leaders for a deepening intimacy with Christ, greater impact in ministry and more effective intentionality in all of life.
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