Season of Delight
I love to run. Well, at least, I used to love to run. It was the kind of activity I truly delighted in. From my running app's verbal signal "Beginning run," to my post-run stretching routine, I loved it all. In my adult life I only participated in a single organized race. Nine months after my first open heart surgery I ran the Phoenix Rock 'n Roll half marathon as a celebration of my renewed energy and life. Other than that, I hated to spoil the pure joy of running with the duty of a training regimen.
Season of Discipline
But now it's different. The shiny new heart valve from seven years ago is wearing out. It's tired and getting less and less elastic; hardening itself against the constant blood flow through my heart and narrowing the passageway that supplies oxygenated blood to the rest of my body.
I'm still running--my cardiologist insists upon it--but now its strictly out of duty. I'm tired and I'm sensitive to every tiny irregularity in my body or my process. As my pace continues to slow and my breath gets shorter, I worry. Should I stop? Am I pushing it too hard?
Regular exercise is the most accurate indicator of my heart's condition and a daily run is now "doctors orders." What a drag. And a gift.
Desire: Discipline: Delight: Repeat
In retreats I lead, I walk people through the cycle of connecting with their desires, then creating disciplined action that helps them lean into those desires, which, if followed, ultimately lead to a season of delight. In our 'instant' culture, we often believe we can move straight from desiring something to possessing it. That works for goods and services, but not for relationships or movement toward God or, really, anything of lasting significance.
For change to occur in these 'things that matter', we must usually spend time intentionally engaging in new patterns of behavior and thought that slowly, often imperceptibly, create space for God to do his transforming work in us. The good news is that, in time, these new patterns become established and we are able to enjoy the fruit of God's spirit-- increased capacity for love, joy, peace, patience, etc.
But in this season of my life I'm being reminded of some truths I've forgotten. Mainly, that sometimes, even after a long season of delight, I might be required to move back into a season of discipline.
Over ten years ago I began a journey that has led to the most dramatic internal transformation in my life. Against all odds, I have become more loving, more compassionate, more joyful and quite comfortable in the disciplines that have created space for the Holy Spirit to work.
And then, I started grad school. I naively (or, pridefully) assumed I would simply be able to continue my current spiritual experience of delight. But Jesus invited me to step out of the boat in the middle of the lake. What I found was I hadn't quite mastered it all and there is a renewed focus on spiritual disciplines in my life. Like my new running regimen, it requires more work to engage in, but I know it may save my life. As I read this week from Eugene Peterson, "...ours is a pedestrian way, literally pedestrian: we put one foot in front of the other as we follow Jesus." And that is what I am doing. It's not pretty or fast, but I'm putting one foot in front of the other.
I love how God is weaving together my spiritual and physical health. He knows I need practical pictures of his movement in my life and he is faithful to provide. When it is time for my physical open heart surgery, I'll praise God again for the new life he gives me physically--which everyone can witness--while also enjoying the continued new life he provides in my spiritual heart.
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.
Today I packed away the last few remnants of the holiday. Christmas is over with all its parties, presents, lights, decorations and high caloric, coma-inducing food. And, frankly, I could not be more relieved. That's not a comment on Christmas, per se, but more on my need for a return to normalcy.
Besides, this year never really felt like Christmas to me. In fact, I would have been fine without a tree or any decorations.
That is not like me.
I love my Christmas house. I love the smell of fresh pine needles, the warmth Christmas decorations add to our home, the external reminders something BIG is happening. But this year was all 'bah humbug'!
I usually participate in some form of Advent observance and enjoy focusing my attention on the waiting. The anticipation of hope dawning on a weary world. But I never established a healthy groove. I got carried along with the activity and programs and found myself easily annoyed with this disturbance in the calendar. I lost my alone time when the kids entered winter break, my diet was horrendous and the shorter days gave me a significant case of the blues. That is not a formula for Christmas joy.
So now I enter the New Year without living into the excitement of anticipation or the wonder of the incarnation. Bummer.
Not only did this negatively affect my Christmas spirit, it also generated a total funk around my usual New Year's excitement. I'm a sucker for new beginnings and ceremonial landmarks but this year it just wasn't coming together.
No sense of where God was leading me in 2014. No path. No verse. No word. Just silence. Of course, there's nothing innately spiritual about proclaiming a new beginning on January 1. I mean, the most dramatic changes often happen in the course of our ordinary lives, but I have come to enjoy this discipline in my life and was disappointed in its absence this year.
This is where it all comes together.
I tried out a couple of ideas to see if any of them resonated with me. I knew God was inviting me into a different kind of prayer practice, but still I had no sense of a theme or focus for the year. I read of someone else's word and I really, really liked it. I mean, there's no saying two people can't focus on the same thing for a year, right? Unfortunately, it wasn't the word God had for me.
On January 2 I sat down to pray and observed that I felt particularly happy; excited about what was ahead. I had no idea what that might be, but I had a sense of anticipation.
In an early December meeting with my Spiritual Director, I sensed God inviting me into a season of active waiting. Waiting with a sense of hope and joy and expectancy. Not waiting to act, but waiting for the fullness of what God has. Not forcing my agenda or manipulating circumstances, but living fully into whatever God puts in front of me.
And there it was...a year of Advent! I don't actually have the word or a particular verse, but I am confident God is inviting me into a season of expectant waiting. The kind of waiting that Mary understood...or, more accurately--didn't understand. Saying 'yes' to crazy things. Making preparations for the fruition of God's plan regardless of how people perceive me and whether or not it makes sense. A year of hope and curiosity and wonder. A year of questions and disappointment and abrupt changes of direction.
Perhaps that's what I'll call it. My year of Advent. Makes sense. I'm a very slow learner and I often require more time to grasp things than your average person. So God is giving me my own remedial course. How very thoughtful.
Or, maybe, its not my word for the year. Maybe its just for this next season--until God moves me to the next thing--however long that may be. This really is new.
I should probably wrap it up. Things are getting crazy! I'm winging it and there's no telling what could happen!
I'll keep you posted.
Whales leave a trail of chaos. And... It. Is. Awesome!
Today when Richard and I arrived at the beach so our old and stubborn dog could chase a ball, we were greeted by hundreds and hundreds of birds in the water. It was a little unsettling. I felt like the odds of getting pooped on were very high.
Both of us wondered what all the commotion was about, but only Richard was willing to stop another spectator and ask what was going on. I don't know why I have such an averse reaction to his inquisitiveness--it was a perfectly acceptable response, but I hate bothering strangers. I prefer to stand quietly behind a group of bystanders, hoping they're talking about the thing I'm questioning so I can gather the necessary information without having to speak to anyone. That's not creepy at all.
Anyway...thankfully Richard asked the right person and we got a short marine biology lesson in the process. First of all,--there were whales in the bay. Jackpot! I was going to see whales today. More on that later. Apparently when whales travel through the bay this near the shore, they disturb the kelp beds in a rather violent fashion. This brings all sorts of debris, fish, bugs, crustaceans (a.k.a food) to the surface, creating a feeding frenzy. Yum! And it wasn't just birds. There were seals everywhere. One so near the shore that our aforementioned old and stupid, er...stubborn, dog tried to swim after it. Very sad to watch her swim in circles after the seal disappeared under the surface.
But back to the kelp beds. Just yesterday I had been out stand up paddle boarding with Caleb and commented on the smoothness of the water in the middle of large kelp beds. As soon as we navigated through one of these areas, the water became less choppy and the current seemed less forceful. Perfect for a calm day of paddle boarding. But today, not so much. Today the kelp beds were teeming with life. What was not good for a recreational cruise was a huge celebration for marine life.
And, sure enough, within minutes there were whales. A couple of them straight ahead. Their long, shimmering backs cresting just above the water line, then gracefully disappearing before the final show of power--the tail rising and descending like a conductor's baton eliciting a dramatic crescendo.
Over and over. More chaos. More beauty. More awe.
I really like a calm kelp bed. I usually prefer to sit on the beach and watch when there are disturbances of this size occurring. But today I found myself drawn in. Wishing I were closer. Less afraid of turbulent waters and more open to the new life that follows in its wake. Because, while it is terrifying and messy and more than I can control, the beauty it displays and the transformation it produces are not to be missed.
Here's to more beautiful disturbances!
Friends, when life gets really difficult, don’t jump to the conclusion that God isn’t on the job. Instead, be glad that you are in the very thick of what Christ experienced. This is a spiritual refining process, with glory just around the corner. I Peter 4:12,13 (MSG)
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.
The problem with writing about introversion is that I'm an introvert. And, unfortunately during the course of the last month I needed to cease engaging and rest...right in the middle of my blog series. Quite inconvenient. But today I'm rested and ready to write and I'd like to start off with a question.
Was Jesus an Introvert or Extrovert?
In a recent survey of Christian college students, nearly all (97%) of the students pictured Jesus as an extrovert. This is interesting for a couple of reasons. One, because on all other personality traits the students tended to peg Jesus as the same as themselves and, two, because this mirrors our is cultural love of extroversion.
And...what the heck??? When did extroversion become a fruit of the Spirit? But I digress. (As an aside, Jesus was probably a perfect combination of introversion and extroversion.)
Photo credit: Duck Marx
In his book "Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture", Adam McHugh observes that evangelicals talk a lot. Henri Nouwen suggests that words can be a verbal mask for a spiritual void. How well I know that.
The Introverted Side of Jesus
There are plenty of strengths in introversion. We can be better listeners, better observers of human behavior, more contemplative, more reflective, better able to engage in Sabbath, and the list goes on. Jesus displayed all of these things. ( I dare an extrovert to try living alone in the wilderness for 40 days--even WITH food.)
Recent technology has uncovered that the introverted and extroverted brain works differently. Introverts have naturally more active brains. Blood flows differently in introverted brains than extroverted brains and introverts require less dopamine. All of this points to a divine design in our make up. As introverts who desire to be transformed into the image of Christ; to emulate his life and example, we don't have to be inauthentic. Our goal is not to act like an extrovert.
On the other hand, our personality is never to become an excuse for laziness or sin. And, the reality is that God moves in community.
So what does that mean for me? Here are a few thoughts I've been chewing on:
1. I can fully embrace the personality God gave me. I often describe myself as a contemplative and I love that about myself.
2. I have something to offer the larger community in my ability to listen, to slow and to stand apart from the hectic pace of culture.
3. My relationship with Jesus is designed to be lived out in community, but that doesn't have to look like it does for an extrovert. Sometimes I will stay home and that will be okay.
4. Just as an extrovert has to work to cultivate silence and Sabbath, I have to work to cultivate community. I don't get a free pass just because it comes less naturally.
Photo Credit: Morph Omir
Sometimes I Skip Church.
First of all, I know that church is an identity, not a place I go. But you know what I mean. Sometimes when the community of believers gather, I stay home. Not a lot, but more than you'd expect from a pastor's wife. And, yes, sometimes its because I have issues with the church, but I've done a lot of emotional and spiritual work around that and today I find that sometimes I simply need to enjoy Jesus in solitude. And that's not a sin.
Of course, on other days Jesus gently coaxes me out of bed and sends me to my community regardless of my emotional state. That's all part of the dance.
This two week blogging hiatus is my longest in years. Strangely, it should have been my most prolific writing season in memory. The explosion of ideas and images and truths and transformation occurring in my head and heart of late, threaten to unravel me. But, alas, I can't get a single coherent thought on a page. I got nothin.
Photo Credit: Network Osaka
I'm prone to pondering things aloud or in writing. But this recent onslaught requires a different approach. Untangling the current mess of fragmented content in my brain is like the delicate task of un-merging my conjoined clump of necklaces. It seems best accomplished slowly, deliberately, in quietness. So I'm in a season of pondering things in my heart--and getting reacquainted with Jesus.
Not the cross, or the gospel or the Christianized Jesus--the historical, flesh and blood person who walked around and got blisters on his feet and experienced hunger and exhaustion and loneliness. I'm spending this Lenten season imagining myself in Palestine during his life on earth. As I read the book of Matthew, I'm putting myself in it.
Why? You ask. Because I've come to realize that I barely know him and that I'm both drawn to and terrified of him. He's so unpredictable and wild and I'm a Pharisee.
Right now, I'm following him at a distance. I'm part of the crowd, intrigued by his unorthodox pick of disciples and amazed at his healing power. But today, he looked at me. In the whole crowd his gaze found ME! I felt the most complete love and full terror simultaneously. I didn't move.
Tomorrow I'll go and see him again. I've got nothing to say, but he doesn't seem to mind.
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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