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.
Our family recently moved to a new home. During our transition I have come to better understand what a life of abundance we live. We have bags, shoes, and jackets for every member of the family and every season that comes our way. We have an abundance of books, treasured photographs, and other important memories. The abundance is flowing out of my laundry room and into our new (to us at least) garage.
Our "new" home also has an abundance of surprises. So far we have flower bulbs popping up all over the yard. Every time I turn around, I notice an abundance of new greenery popping through the previously frozen ground. While not all blooms have appeared, there are hints of purple and white as the elegance of our newly discovered irises begin to come into bloom. I couldn’t have fathomed that our home would have such treasure awaiting us when it was purchased (amidst freezing temperatures and without a bloom in site).
And while the abundance of our treasured materials and the abundance of my new favorite flower blooms, we celebrate the abundance of the other side of Easter. A time as Christians to feel the endless love of God in our lives as a fresh and new reminder. We are to continue living like Easter people. Like those blooming flowers, I’m reminded we only get a glimpse of all that Jesus has done for us in our lives while on this earth. As I prepared my new home to welcome those who will enter for times of private spiritual direction, I trimmed the dying monkey grass that abundantly lined our walkway. Yet it was not a dreaded chore. It was a reminder of the letting go of the old, the dying away of what has been, making room for what is to come this ongoing Easter season.
Recently, a friend made a statement that I have continued to ponder. We were talking about old testament times and she asked a question “Can you imagine living in those times of Noah, without hope?" Just think, really imagine it, what it would have been like to live to be 900 years old and not have the abundant love and hope of what Easter promises us?
The promise of Easter is abundantly more than we could hope for and far more than we can imagine. The promises God has made for us are actually unfathomable in abundance. They stack high above the boxes of my old photographs and they are far more beautiful than a new backyard full of blooms. God’s love, hope, and promises are true abundance.
As we continue life on this side of Easter, let us remember that God’s love is abundant. It is all around us. Let us accept the call to simply notice it, receive it, and help others soak it up as well.
Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine… Ephesians 3:20 NRSV
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.
On my journey of exploring contemplative prayer tools, I've tried many things. Naturally, some prayer disciplines work for me better than others (I wrote a little about my prayer struggles recently at MinistryMatters.com). Some prayer disciplines work for me in seasons. One thing I've learned about me and my personality (that remains consistent - in an ironic way) is that I like variety in my prayer life. And I'm realizing this is true for many others as well. How we connect can't be nearly as important as our desire to connect! As Psalm 145:28 reminds us, when our motive is sincerely to connect with God, God is indeed as close as a whisper. And, I'm certain the tools we use to connect with God are much more about us than they are about God. So, while I have my favorite ways to pray, I believe being open to trying new tools is a great way to grow my prayer life.
So, it was with openness and excitement that I discovered a book from the Upper Room about Prayer Beads by Kristen Vincent. The book caught my eye after an experience I had on a silent retreat at a local convent with my spiritual director. I am an extrovert, so silent retreats may seem difficult for those of us who use words more than others. However, I love my times of silent retreat. I find they help me deepen my other senses and tap into parts of my soul that often get ignored. As I sat in the chapel on the first night of our retreat, I noticed that one of the Sisters had left her rosary on the chair. I sat and held the beads in my hand and thought of the hands that had held those beads and the prayers that had been prayed over the years. I found myself wishing this discipline had been one that was part of my own faith and was curious to learn more. Kristen's book on Prayer Beads answered my questions and it filled me with a longing to share this tool with others. Turns out, prayer beads are not just for Catholics and I was excited to learn more.
Prayer Beads are used as a tool. They help us focus while praying. I'm not sure about you, but I'm (oh look, it's snack time...) easily distracted! Prayer Beads (like hand crosses, prayer rocks, etc.) give us a tangible reminder that we are approaching God in prayer. I knew that beads had been used for centuries as a tool for prayer. I was excited to discover from Kristen that the modern English word for "bead" is derived from the Anglo-Saxon "bede" which means "prayer." And while I'm often seen with my beaded keychain or bracelet(s), this understanding deepens my appreciation for my love of beads.
Kristen's model for praying with beads includes 34 beads (33 beads symbolize the years of Christ's life on earth and a 34th bead symbolizes his resurrection). Each bead has a meaning and my favorite part of her prayer model for the beads is that while they are designed with meaning and purpose, there is no right or wrong way to use the beads. For those who do enjoy structured prayer time, Kristen includes devotional prayers to use with your beads in her book as well as on her blog.
The prayer beads in the photo are from a prayer bead retreat I recently led and the women loved creating them. The beads are a special reminder to us that God is as close as our whisper. The symbolism and order of the beads is meaningful for our faith. The beads are even beautiful. But, the time on retreat creating these sets of 34 beads may have been the best gift of all - the time together was holy.
What works for your life? I have a long list of things I prefer to spend my time doing both alone and with my family. Things like my morning quiet time, yoga, writing, reading, knitting, biking, kayaking, photography, thrifting, etc. Things that too often slip to the bottom of my list.
This morning I awoke with my "to do" list racing through my head and yet the longing to not simply cram my day with the many tasks from my list. I woke up knowing the list must be accomplished. I also awoke knowing that I longed to make time for at least one of those preferred activities that fills me up and connects me with God.
I have learned. These things keep me going. And yet I let them slip away.
So I sat for a moment in the quiet, fighting the distractions of the "list" for the day.
And then I settled in to the stillness and I read this poem.
Stuck with another day,
God speaks. I just have to slow down and listen.
For me, preference it is today - to the things that worked before. The "to do" list already seems easier to tackle.
Twenty years helps the maturity process and I'm certain in 20 more I'll laugh at how mature I feel I’ve become over the last 20. But, the last 20 have included much of what has made me who I am today. Those first 18 years were a lot of trial and error, goofing off, and just learning to turn the stove on. I think my parents did a pretty good job and I’m thankful for the values they tried to teach me (even when I tried to avoid learning them). The last 20 have included things that have made me who I am today (in no particular order) like college, living wills, career changes and callings, seminary, motherhood, marriage, miscarriage, stroke, brain surgery, cancer, finish lines, and much more.
I realize there is still much to experience in life (I hope there is, anyway) but I crammed a lot into the last 20 years and I'm thrilled to be in a place of learning from those experiences. Being in the middle of the last 20 has stunk at times (if I'm being honest).
Recently, (well, I wrote this more "recently" than it was posted!) I returned to my home state for time with old friends at our 20 year high school reunion. Some of those friends I've not seen in 20 years. Most of them have way better memories than I do and some of them have a lot less hair (which I was not the first to point out, Jason!). Everyone came with questions and stories but no one came with drama. My long-time friend, Doug, pointed this out. Actually, it turns out Doug and I got married in Kindergarten and I'd forgotten all about it. My husband took the news really well though. Anyway, that was the most dramatic it got. Wow, I made mistakes. Wow, I was not always wise or truthful. This fact was pointed out to me by a sweet friend whose boyfriend I am told I tried to steal during a week at band camp. I didn't remember that one either (brain surgery is my forever excuse of all things forgotten). So, I'm sorry Kimberly! And, honestly, the time went too fast to hear many of those stories I have forgotten from my past.
So, I write this to remember and encourage. If you're 18 and reading this, you may think I’m elderly. But, it wasn't that long ago. Cherish these last 18 and embrace the next 20. If your path includes even half as many turns as mine has, you are in for a ride of a lifetime! If you’re 38 or older and reading this, what do you take from the last 20 (or 40 or 60) and how has it made you who you are today?
My friend Brandon said something that rang true as he welcomed us to dinner at the reunion. He said, “Wow, look at us all grown up. I just want to say in advance that we're past our childish ways and I apologize if I hurt any of you 20 years ago. I didn't know how to treat myself, let alone the rest of you. We're adults now, let's have some fun.” And, we did.
As I move into the next phase of life, I must admit that I like life without all the drama of those early days growing up (when I made some not always wise choices). I like honesty and respect. I like people who are authentic and real. I am far from perfect, but I hope I can be authentic and real for those in my life. The journey doesn’t have time for anything less than real. Life is too short; I’ve learned that more than once.
You know that sweet spot? We’ve had one at some point or another…
- The perfect bite from a wonderfully delicious meal.
- Crossing the finish line before the fatigue settles in.
- Waking up just happy to put your feet on the floor and face another day with a positive attitude.
- Holding that sweet baby you’ve waited nine months to meet.
- Taking the last exam and facing a summer of fun.
There may be a number of times in your life where you’ve felt like you were in a sweet spot. Or, you may feel like they are few and far between. But, something big has settled over me recently. I think we’re scared of our sweet spots. I know I have been in the past. However, I am ready to embrace that feeling of settling into my sweet spot!
Life is not perfect. But, when we do find a sweet spot, what are we so afraid of? Most of the time, I’m afraid it’s going to end. So, I don’t want to get my hopes too high and then just be disappointed. How could we dare think that God didn’t design us to delight in Him and in the place He put us?
I really believe that when our minds, bodies, spirits and relationships find harmony then we will find our sweet spot. Without harmony among the aspects of our true self, we are only fighting with ourselves to be who we are really designed to be.
So, be yourself! Join in union with God and who He designed you to be…embrace your sweet spots in life and I bet that this world won’t be able to hold you back!
I admit my attitude is faaaar from perfect, but I do take pride in my optimistic outlook on life...most of the time!
Bad attitudes are just contagious. For me, it starts with a grumpy mood and then poof, it is out of control! It’s like taking your kid to the pediatrician’s office with a cold and leaving with chicken pox! God has been on me about this lately. He doesn’t want me feeling down in the midst of tough times. He wants me to lean on Him! And, if I forget that, I am at risk of spreading my bad attitude to those around me! If you don’t believe me, just ask any mommy…if our day is bad…the kid'(s) day is often bad too!
Here is what I do not like about bad attitudes: they make me say and do things I would not typically say or do, they convince me to not care for my mind and body, they tell me my efforts are worthless and that no one cares, they drag me down, keep me from the things I love and they zap my energy. Bad attitudes are just too much work and yet like the Chicken Pox, sometimes they just hang around way too long.
We have good times and we have bad times. He never promised us this earth would be full of peace, joy and happiness. As a matter of fact, he already warned us ahead of time in John 16:33, “…in this world, you will have trouble”…the part we forget is “but take heart for I have overcome the world.” With Him, we can have peace even when we are missing out on some joy and happiness.
So, there is really no reason to act surprised when we hit bumps in the road. They are expected. And, according to His word, we should take joy in them because they are part of His plan. This grumpy place caught me by surprise, although it shouldn’t have, I’ve been so excited about studying this “Life with God” since I got back from my first class.
Then, it hit me…well, actually Oswald Chambers hit me with the truth…in this devotional. He reminds us that it is spiritual selfishness to desire the mountain top all the time. It often seems that My Utmost for His Highest carries a series of devotionals on a topic right when I need them most. The next day he reminded me that “after every time of exaltation, we are brought down with a sudden rush into things as they really are, where it is neither beautiful, poetic, nor thrilling.” I feel like I’ve been in that place lately and I’ve been very grumpy about it! So, I will rejoice in that place, even if I have been getting squeezed. I will rejoice from the squeeze because after all, to make wine, the grapes must get squeezed. I just hope that rejoicing is contagious too!
For some time, I have felt God tugging at my heart to use my story of healing and wholeness to help others but I’ve just not been sure how I was supposed to do that… I started a blog called "Whitney's Journey" after my stroke and brain surgery in 2005. This was my online journal and was even before blogs were called blogs. At that time, I mostly used my blog to process and vent about my recovery and log the often boring details of my progress in Physical Therapy. I also shared my joys and victories as I conquered everyday new tasks like multi-tasking (something I still often struggle with). Most recently I used that blog to post God sightings in my life and the successes I’ve had on my journey of healing. Those writings were very personal for me and helped me to record my faith story. Writing is something I encourage anyone going through a difficult time to do, it does not have to be fancy or formal, just write. It can be a private paper journal or a public blog. We so often do not allow ourselves the opportunity to process what is taking place in our hearts and minds. Journaling (privately and publicly) not only helps us see the progress we make, but it also helps us to keep tabs on our emotions and witness how God is working in our lives. Often times, we are so close to situations that we fail to see God’s work within them. Writing helps.
God has been calling me to pursue deeper study with Him for the past several years. Since the Summer of 2009 he has specifically been calling me to return to school and study Spiritual Formation. So, as I pray and dream about where God plans to use me each day (as well as in the future), I felt it was only appropriate I start fresh with a new blog because it isn’t about “Whitney’s Journey”, it never was. It’s God’s journey and I’m just along for the ride.
God has me on a journey of exploration as I seek to find peace and share it with others in my life. The word peace is very dear to me as it was a comfort during my journey. It is a word that came to me at my most fearful moment and a word that brought me closest to God. I truly believe that this exploration is a journey that I am supposed to share. Not only am I to share my victories, but also what I learn from my failures. For the journey to find peace is not a direct route but an exploration.
Whitney R. Simpson
• on a journey of #ExploringPeace
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