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.
You're at the library or your favorite bookseller (by the way, please go visit your favorite local bookseller if you have not lately - maybe ask them to pre-order this book?!) and you hold a book in your hand eyeing the cover. You have done this before. You pick up a book and either savor the cover curious as to what is inside or... you are instantly not interested. Your senses react to the colors, the font, and the imagery you hold in your hand. From that first impression, you may decide if the book is for you or not - even before you open the pages, glimpse at the author's profile or read a description of what may actually be inside.
The first book I ever wrote (probably around age 8) was about panda bears and was created in the shape of a panda bear's head. Yes, you read that correctly. I created the cover myself from white construction paper, carefully shading the ears and eyes with a black sharpie. As the first book I will ever publish became a reality, I was honored to be able to vision and dream with the Upper Room team how this cover could invite the reader into the pages of this devotional. It definitely did not look like a panda bear, but I was not certain what it did look like. It still felt abstract, but I knew it was to be an invitation for you, the reader.
You see, this devotional is an invitation to begin listening with your body in a way that is undefined. Each person who chooses to journey with God through the pages of this book is invited to use their body to listen for God. And guess what? No two of our bodies are the same! And, no two persons will read or experience this invitation in the same way. There is no "how-to" for how you should use your body to listen for God's activity. But there is an invitation.
This book cover is for you.
As I glimpsed the cover for the first time, I noticed:
How the feet imprinted on the mat leave the impression of a heart, and they do not show how a body should look or even stand in perfect alignment.
There is no gorgeous yoga posture or person in meditation as the focal point.
There is God's grace and love.
The imperfections of the wooden flooring.
The mat has barely been used.
The title itself as an invitation to journey with God's Spirit.
Go ahead, judge this book by the cover - because this invitation is for you. You are welcome here.
Coming in January 2017 from Upper Room Books.
For years I've struggled with sticking to the same spiritual discipline for more than a few months, weeks...okay, even a few days...at a time. According to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, I am an ENFP. One thing that means is, I enjoy spontaneity and crave variety (that's also a nice way to say that I have a really difficult time sticking with the "same thing" for a long period of time). The positive side of this aspect of my personality is that I've explored a variety of ways of praying. And, I've discovered that each one speaks to me in a different way.
One fairly consistent aspect of my prayer life includes using scripture as a launching point for talking with God. This summer I began using the Common English Bible for Daily Prayer and I love it! The Bible incorporates a weekly list of scripture for reflection as well as a variety of ways to pray (spiritual disciplines) for each day of the week.
As I've begun praying the scripture and purposely varying the ways I interact with God's word each day, I've been reminded that the variety in my prayer life is not a negative trait at all. Varying the ways I talk with God brings life to the scriptures and to my ability to hear God speak back into my life. My perceived weakness is actually a strength. Sound familiar (2 Cor. 12:9-10)?
In talking with others, I have found that I'm not the only one that struggles with sticking with a discipline and that many of us simply need to be encouraged to try new ways to pray. So, as we move from Summer into Fall (I know it's still hot outside but kids start school next week here in Tennessee and I'm looking forward to cooler temps), I'll be sharing a short list of scriptures and highlighting a different way to pray through them. This is not Bible study and you will not find any answers. This is simply an invitation to journey with God's word. Listen for how God may be speaking to you through the scriptures as we pray them together in the weeks to come. I look forward to hearing God speak into your life as we journey with the ancient text of the Bible.
You'll find the scriptures shared here at the blog and on social media. This week, we're starting with one thing I know is already in your tool kit - you have it everywhere you go. We're starting with YOUR body.
Some ideas for Praying the Scriptures with YOUR body this week:
If reading scripture for reflection (rather than for study) is a new practice for you, you may wish to select one passage and "sit with it" all week. After you read, select one or more ways to pray with your body:
What is God saying to you this week as you pray the scriptures? How does your body feel as you reflect? Does the scripture you are praying bring you comfort or are you struggling in your body - head, heart, or elsewhere? What does the scripture evoke in you?
Will you join me?
Follow along on social media (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook) for updates and subscribe with the form below to receive email updates! If you subscribe via email, you'll be invited to an online hangout mid-way through our journey together as well as receive a few other perks I won't be posting on the blog (it's going to be fun!). No expectations, just an invitation.
If you've read this far, I hope you'll join me as we pray God's word together. Exploring a variety of ways to pray are ahead!
This image (of me!) leaves me in awe of God. The awe is not simply because I am standing on my head.
This is me in awe of a healing journey. If this life were only viewed through my lens, this moment would not have been possible.
Instead, there is an invitation for me (and for you) to view this world through God's lens. A lens that loves and believes. A lens that heals and gives hope. God sees beauty in ashes.
Maybe when you look at this image you simply see me standing on my head amidst stone architecture. Honestly, I shy away from sharing this (or others like it) for a few reasons. We'll get to that in a bit. First, what do you see?
Maybe you see shadow and light.
Maybe you see victory and wholeness.
Maybe you see brick and motor.
Maybe you see fear and instability.
Maybe you see strength and courage.
Maybe you see healing and hope.
Images such as this one are often shared by slender, young, popular yogis and yoginis who practice their asanas at the beach or on mountaintops. This space is not a scenic destination and I am not young, slender, or popular by Instagram standards. The ground is uneven and the traffic was constant. My friend (with her camera) and I snuck into this corner during a recent retreat as I told her it would be really empowering for me to "try" a headstand on the uneven surface of this sanctuary. My feet floated to the sky on the cool uneven stone that day as I protected the sensitive spots on my head from touching the earth.
This is ordinary me doing something extraordinary - for me, for God.
It's not comfortable for me look at or share images of myself. Which is an interesting turn of events since at one point in my youth, I aspired to be Katie Couric...on screen and clearly in public view. Today it's uncomfortable for me to "see me" in images or on screen and I was not sure why until I saw this image.
It's hard to see myself through God's lens.
Yet I'm learning to see as God sees - all around me. So, that includes me. I share this in hopes that you may see through a God lens too. When I see this photo as God would see me, I see a woman of 40 who has overcome many physical health obstacles. I see a woman who mourns because she was told she shouldn't attempt pregnancy again. I see a women who has beat the odds of cancer, stroke, and brain surgery. I see a woman who loves God so very much...in spite of all that. I see a woman who believes each person is unique and beautiful and important yet sometimes struggles to believe this for herself. I see a woman who attempted things she never thought possible - physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Sometimes you look at yourself and don't recognize who you are, how far you've come, or especially how far you have to go. This image helps me appreciate each.
In 2005, I could barely consider standing on my own two feet, and definitely never considered standing on my head. The months that followed included a walker and a cane. I even traveled around SuperCenters in motorized carts. I was scoffed at a time or two for what appeared to be a joy ride by some who saw no physical scars or struggles of paralysis.
In those dark days, I knew I could praise God again (somehow) and thank him for this journey. But, I did not expect it to be my feet I raised in thanksgiving. The feet that have held me up now pull me closer each day. I never fathomed I would lift these feet to the God who made me.
But, that's what happened.
Nearly ten years of taking the next step. A step to find the right physical therapist or yoga class. A step to meet with a spiritual director and counselor. A step to finish 13.1 miles. A step to learn. A step to lead. A step to listen. A step to heal. A step to slowing down. A step to lean in. A step to savor motherhood, family, and friendships. A step to embrace losses and missed steps. A step to living in to the person God created me to be - imperfections and all.
Steps of faithfulness have included lots of boundaries and disappointments. They also included saying yes to God over and over again and being amazed by faithfulness.
The gift I received when my life was turned upside down, indeed took my feet out from under me.
In a sanctuary of stone I realized this...when your life is turned upside down, it really can be beautiful, even if you're the last one to notice it.
Look through God's lens.
"The most powerful weapon on earth, is the human soul on fire.”
The world we live in challenges us now more than ever to discover and embrace Soul Care. After my own crisis and burnout, I quickly discovered that while my life had been quite full, my soul was actually quite empty. I knew God but I had a new longing to be with God. That longing for a life with God took over and I began training as a spiritual director and later as a Holy Yoga Instructor. Like Spiritual Direction, Holy Yoga offers individuals an opportunity to practice being in the presence of God - literally. Holy Yoga instructors have the privilege of helping others not simply know God, but to be with God as they care for both their body and their soul.
Unfortunately, we can easily be so busy planning or "doing" ministry that the needs of our own soul become distant and lost. This is true for most individuals in ministry, whatever the ministry may look like. Without a real concentrated effort on care of the soul, we can easily lose sight of our calling and face discouragement and burnout. As a spiritual director, I meet with overworked pastors, stay-at-home parents, and exhausted care givers. There is one common trait for each, God longs for us to spend time with him and to care for the person he created us to be, no matter the demands of our daily life.
Quite often I hear that soul care seems selfish or overrated and is the first to fall away when the demands of everyone else top our lists. But, put simply soul care is a mandatory part of being a servant of God. When your soul is on fire, you can not help but live a life with God. So, how do we kindle the fire in our soul?
Dallas Willard says, "the secret for caring for our souls is Practicing the Presence” of God. So how do we not only teach practicing presence but fully live into it? How do we ignite this fire within us and keep it burning? How do we not let the stressors and realities of every day life extinguish the flame?
Soul Care does not mean we cease from activity. It means we care for the very part of us that God created so that we can continue to be his hands and feet in this world. It means that we find greater joy in the tasks of ministry. It means we know God even more intimately and ourselves more deeply. It means we find both our passion and our rest in God. It means we truly are servants of God and our souls are on fire.
I've been asked a lot lately, "can I do yoga?" The question is quickly followed with "because I'm too uncoordinated" or I'm "too fat" or I'm "too old" or I'm "too young" or I'm "too............" You fill in the blank. I keep saying "YES!" but my gaze is often met with another that still isn't sure and doesn't believe me or maybe it is themselves they don't believe. A "no" would be so much easier to believe.
Then a friend sent me this transformation that was too powerful not to share. Arthur's story is inspirinig beyond words. I don't know Arthur, I don't know his teacher, I don't know any more to this story than the 9 minutes I'm told in this video. But, I believe that this man was transformed in more than one way. He set his mind to something he was told was impossible and he believed it was indeed possible.
If you've known me for more than a few minutes, you likely know that in 2005 I had a stroke followed by brain surgery. When you lose function of an entire side of your body, it impacts your life...drastically. Through that story, I've been called to share, encourage, and give hope to others amidst health crisis. And, I can't help but be thankful and in awe of how God has allowed me to get back on my feet. However, I must be clear. It was no accident that I got back on my feet. It was hard work and (not surprisingly) I tried to quit more than once. There were some hard and dark times for my mind, body, and spirit. And yet, God has led me and guided me out of that darkness. Yes, my body is not perfect, I do still have limitations. But friends, NONE of our bodies are perfect. We all have limitations. And yet, I have found so much healing on my yoga mat and continue to grow in this process, surprising even myself.
Ready? Can't stand on your own? Can't touch your toes? Here you go. Take 10 minutes and grab a sturdy chair. Breathe and believe in yourself. I believe in you.
May God himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together - spirit, soul, and body - and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ.
Whitney R. Simpson
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Whitney R. Simpson,
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