In Nashville, Parnassus Books is known and loved by locals and visitors alike. Just recently, I read an article from co-owner (and one of my favorite authors), Ann Patchett, about planning your travels around amazing local booksellers like Parnassus. And, if you're in Nashville, you are in for a treat as you don't have to travel far. Parnassus is a gem to Nashvillians.
So when my fantastic editor at Upper Room Books, emailed me to share that we would be celebrating the launch of Holy Listening with Breath, Body, and the Spirit at Parnassus in January, I was a wee bit (okay, a lot) excited. There is much that goes in to giving life to a book. And, Parnassus fully understands and appreciates this fact. It seemed the perfect place to celebrate this devotional's birthing. Their team was awesome. I arrived to the beautiful cover (envisioned by the Upper Room team after I shared my heart and ideas) filling the window of the shop. Greeted by friendly staff and the shop dog (neither of which treated me like a "newbie" author but instead welcomed me with open arms and a wagging tail).
Book supporters (I have some pretty amazing friends, you know who you are, thank you!) began arriving as I ran to the restroom to take a deep breath. My heart was racing and I wondered how or why God invited me here. Who, me Lord? We soon ran out of chairs and strangers even paused to join us in this very special place.
In Greek Mythology, Parnassus is known as the home of music and poetry. Truth is, I am a huge music and poetry fan! Although I'm not well-versed in the myths of ancient Greece. And, while there was no audible soundtrack, it felt like it. I was asked to read some of my story from the introduction to the book and answer questions - both of which felt extraordinarily daunting. Who, me?
In a standing-room-only middle-of-a-bookstore, I shared God's nudges and longings. I invited people (some who simply came to grab their copy of Zadie's new book - which is on my reading list!) to listen for God with their whole self - breath, body, and spirit. You see, Parnassus Books may have made me feel like the special guest as a local author (I was even invited to sign their author's book), yet it isn't about me at all. It's about you - your whole self. God created you with breath, body, and spirit. God created you to listen for those nudges and dreams. God created you to release your fears. God created you to come alive with purpose. God created you.
Reflecting in Parnassus helped me claim this for myself and for you too.
Yes, Lord. Me.
Lately, I've been hearing God remind me with a gentle whisper, "take me with you" in all you do. Take me with you to the bank. Take me with you to the store. Take me with you in rush hour traffic. Take me with you in long lines. Take me with you, not simply when you show up to teach, lead a retreat, or facilitate a yoga class. Take me with you always, God whispers. No, the whisper is not audible. Yet the whisper is clear. Take me with you, God says.
As a kid who grew up in church, we went to church to meet God every Sunday and Wednesday. I knew God was with me (on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday) in my head - I had been taught good theology. But, I don't think I fully understood God's longing and desire for me to embrace this fact all the time - and in all places. For most of my life, I did not grasp that I could indeed take God with me. And, most importantly, that God longed for this invitation - to be taken along.
On the yoga mat, was one of the first "outside the box" places I truly began to take God along with me. I discovered the power of breath and the depth of God's spirit within me through each breath. My mat soon became an altar, a place to meet with God. Eventually, I began sharing this passion and offered others the chance to roll out a mat and meet their creator, God, in body and breath too.
Discovering God all around me is something I relish - not simply in church or on a yoga mat but in the trees, clouds, meals, relationships, experiences, travels, music, scents, and even the crises and challenges of life. Some days are better than others. Where are you God?
I am here. Take me with you.
Today I was renewing the tag for my car (a week in advance of the expiration I might add - celebrating the fact that I only procrastinated this long - not until the very last minute). The kind person receiving my fees for this postponed chore was wearing a diffuser necklace - containing her favorite essential oils. We quickly began a conversation regarding some of our favorite oils and she mentioned the browser tab on her computer was open to explore herb and essential oil sales from one of her favorite sources when she had a break. I smiled and thought - we have something in common - we could be friends.
The line was building behind me. I glanced down as I handed her my check and noticed a rock under her computer monitor. The word PEACE was inscribed on the rock. A reminder for her in some special way. And a reminder for me too. Take me with you, God said.
My favorite word, peace, brought a smile to my face as I considered the commonalities. Under my arm, in my purse I held my favorite essential oils - anchors for my soul. Reminders of God's presence with me through the gift of aromatherapy. I never leave home without them. They remind me of God. The scents along with her word peace (my word too) resonated. When I feel far away, overloaded with tasks and chores, I whisper the word peace. The oils and the word resonated in this moment - as I experienced God's presence - in the line for my license plate renewal. I take you with me, I said.
I offered a smile of thanks to the woman assisting me in daily ordinary tasks. She offered me a reminder of how I take God with me. And, she reminded me how I share God with those at whom I smile.
Take me with you, God whispered with a grin. Through words, through images, through scents, through strangers, through smiles.
I acknowledge the joy of this privilege and invitation - of taking God with me - everywhere I go. I exited past the long line into the sunshine of a suddenly less crowded day.
I do, I said.
Recently, we shared a meal with new friends. It was one of those fruitful times of conversation that linked lunch to dinner. By the time we got up from the table, we were due another meal. That is meeting at the table - literally.
In the past couple of weeks, "lay it all out on the table” conversations have popped up with other friends in my life. And several of them expressed how challenging and lonely this world feels at times. It is ironic that in a society that is "connected" more than ever, many of us experience feelings of loneliness or isolation that often lead to depression. These feelings are more real than rare.
My own periods of depression have stemmed from various chronic health conditions. The first of which began when I was 18 years old. I had Graves Disease, a thyroid disorder. To treat an overactive thyroid (one that made my heart and my head race) my thyroid was literally zapped. Today I no longer have a functioning thyroid. A little colorful pill awaits me every single morning. But those levels can be hard to regulate and fatigue and depression take center stage. And while these side effects that have come and gone over the last 20 years are real, this post is not about my health struggles.
This is an invitation to come to the table with your struggles and hard work, to embrace God's activity in your story. Meeting at the table means you pull up a chair and tell that story. Meeting at the table means speaking truth. Meeting at the table means inviting others to join you there because you are not alone and they feel less alone in the process.
Here is the thing, we all have something in our life that requires our hard work. My body just happens to need a lot of care and regular "maintenance." Any person with chronic health problems or autoimmune disorders will understand that statement. It requires commitment and sacrifices. And if you review our family’s budget, you’ll notice we spend far more on vitamins and vegetables than we do on cable or clothes.
But let’s say your health is stellar and you don’t have to follow a regimen other than caring for the basics: you move, breathe, sleep, and eat. You don't need a crisis, everybody has something and you have a story to tell! Yep, you sure do. I think that’s where we miss out sometimes. We know God is in the sunsets, the miracles, the sounds of the ocean, and the birth of a new child and we're happy to talk about those. Yet we struggle to see God in the crises, the catastrophes, the losses, and even the hard work of every day life. Once we do recognize God in those places, we often don't want to talk about them. And when we don't talk about them (with God or with community), we're opting to journey alone. This life was not designed to be journeyed solo.
Friends, we are not alone. God is amidst every single day, the hard ones and the less hard ones. Even the mundane ones. Anyone ever have a mundane day? If not, you can come do my laundry because there are baskets surrounding me most days. Laundry is mundane. There is a shirt in my dirty laundry that says "life is good" and I would agree with that statement but it is not easy.
Both counseling and spiritual direction have helped me cope (with others, with myself, and with God) during very tough times on this journey. Meeting at the table means we are not alone. We are invited to no longer simply cope with life challenges but to truly acknowledge God's activity there.
We EACH have a place at the table as we encourage and support one another on this journey. Start with being honest with yourself. Uncover your story, friends. Tell it. And while you're at it, listen to another story in the process. That is community.
Will you meet me at the table? Pull up a chair. Bring your baggage and your junk, you're definitely not alone.
As for the seed that fell among thorny plants, these are the ones who, as they go about their lives, are choked by the concerns, riches, and pleasures of life, and their fruit never matures. The seed that fell on good soil are those who hear the word and commit themselves to it with a good and upright heart. Through their resolve, they bear fruit. - Luke 8:14-15 CEB
Recently, much change has occurred in my personal life. The change was unplanned and not on my radar or written in my planner (I’m told most people don’t plan change, so that statement simply confirms my type A personality). Once our family accepted the change was coming (a move to a new home in a different city) it seemed 100% right.
All the pieces for the move fell into place as God orchestrated the change for our family. We were excited for the opportunity to be closer to extended family. And yet, this change impacted me more deeply than I expected. As I sat in our empty home loading the last boxes a flood of emotions and tears emptied out of my physical body. There was so much to leave behind. Memories of building our first home, the birth of our son, moments of health crisis and recovery, birthday parties, bike rides, snow fights with neighborhood kids, delicious meals, and warm bonfires. My heart ached to leave and yet it was also excited for the new growth and seed that God was planting.
When life seems uncertain and I become overwhelmed, meditating on God’s word soothes my soul. As I breathed in my favorite scripture, “Be still and know that I am God,” I was reminded that God knows our plans. God knows what is to come. God knows the good things that are in store for each of us. God knows our worries. God knows change unsettles us. God knows we can cling to his word and his promises. It is a relief to be still and know that God has all our best interests at heart. I may be uncertain of much but I am certain that God is with me among the change.
Thomas Merton reminds us, “every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul.” As we each face change in this new year (big or small), may we face it with hope and great expectation! Every moment we face and every change that occurs shapes our soul. May we embrace the seeds that are sprouting in our souls and foster them as they grow. And although we currently have record low temperatures at my house, that seed God is planting will still sprout, I’m certain. Our God provides soil that is rich. May the seeds of change in 2014 bear much fruit in your life and your soul.
This post originally appeared at AbingdonWomen.com.
Whitney R. Simpson
• on a journey of #ExploringPeace
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