If you've followed my journey at all you may know these things to be true:
I am passionate about healing and wholeness.
I believe in safe space for all.
I have immense compassion for human trafficking victims.
I understand we each hold trauma in our bodies.
I am certain the gift of the breath grounds us amidst crisis.
With those things in mind, I invite you to join me in gifting the survivors I work with a tool that (I believe) will truly enhance their healing journey. The two organizations I currently partner with to offer trauma-sensitive yoga in this season are Rest Stop Ministries and End Slavery Tennessee. Graciously, yoga mats and blocks are in abundance for these survivors to use on site when we practice together. Some locations offer blankets to be shared. However, one of my favorite props/tools is largely missing. The yoga blanket.
Why are yoga blankets important and how do they help with a yoga & meditation practice? I am so glad you asked! Yoga blankets are the most versatile of props! A yoga blanket offers alignment to the pelvis and spine when in seated postures. It can be folded into a meditation cushion. It can serve as a pillow for stiff necks. It can be used to cover the body when cool. It can be folded into a bolster offering support in certain restorative postures. Heavy duty yoga blankets are not flimsy blankets, they offer firm support for the body.
From a safe space perspective, practicing yoga & meditation with an item that is "yours" is something which offers familiarity and comfort. Sharing yoga blankets that are stored and reused by others feels less personal. Yet gifting a survivor with a blanket of her own to be used beyond that weekly hour of practice is transformative! These women often have little of their own and this blanket may be the start of a new season of healing.
With your help, I would love to offer blankets for each survivor I connect with on this journey. Who knows...with your help...maybe even more survivors than these will receive this gift.
Will you journey with me?
There are two ways to help support this project right away:
1. Donate a gently used or brand new (heavy duty) yoga blanket to me in person or drop off at Bloom Yoga Studio (I will deliver on your behalf).
2. Purchase a new yoga blanket from my online shop (I will place a bulk order and deliver on your behalf). Click below to support these women on their journeys by gifting a blanket.
And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. - Anaïs Nin
It feels risky to blossom. Yet blooming is happening everywhere!
May is the season in which the roses in my back yard are in full bloom. I paused yesterday in amazement at the number of buds opening up in the last week. It is also the month that I am excited to share with you some blossoming news!
First, I will be blooming in a new location. Just as I let go of "figuring out" what is next on this journey, an opportunity to partner with Bloom Yoga Studio (located at The Mill in Lebanon, Tennessee) has appeared. I will be offering yoga and meditation classes, private and group spiritual direction sessions, as well as workshops and events. The historic space is beautiful. You're going to love it at Bloom. Near Lebanon? Come grow with us, let's bloom together (click here for my updated yoga class schedule).
And next, this month marks the third publication in which my writing appears this year. Wow, what a year 2017 has been thus far (especially for me - a writer who has blogged in various forms for over a decade and ever only dreamt of being published). I am humbled to be included in Everbloom, sharing my story of miscarriage and grief. You can find Everbloom on Amazon and other online retailers. These stories of deeply rooted and transformed lives include reflection and writing prompts for your spiritual formation journey.
Blooming? Stop and notice the roses (or other blooms) in your backyard. And, consider allowing these reflections from the women of Redbud Writers Guild to be your companion in this season.
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 the past year, I have been writing. Actually, let me preface that - I have been writing since I learned to write! Recently, I found my first book which was bound by yarn, created in the shape of a panda bear's head (I collected stuffed panda bears as a kid and this book was ALL about pandas). I also uncovered boxes and boxes of journals in that purge, filled with pages and pages of thoughts, words, and even some poems. So, you could say writing has been part of my life for a very long time. It is one way I connect with God. And writing a published book that draws others closer to God has been a dream for many of those years (hint, hint!).
To the point of this post! For the past year, I have been writing a 40-day devotional for body and spirit. The seeds for this book idea were planted during my 500-Hour yoga teacher training with Holy Yoga Ministries. The idea kept growing to the point that I wrote the entire book before I ever shared it (although if you've been in any of my yoga classes in the past year, you've probably gotten a sneak peek without realizing it as I've shared some of the themes, scripture passages, yoga postures, and reflection questions with you!).
Then last summer while attending a writer's workshop at SoulFeast (a spiritual retreat hosted by Upper Room), I was nudged to submit a proposal for this project. Since summer is nearly here again, you can guess that this book has been many many months in the making. For the last couple of months, I have known we were moving forward yet certain details had to be in place in order to finalize and share. In that timeframe, I also submitted devotionals for the Disciplines 2017 publication. And finally, I can share with you that my 40-day devotional (title and details coming soon) will be published in 2017 by Upper Room Books!
Honestly, my heart beats fast as I share this news with you. One reason for this is that when I submitted the proposal for the devotional, the publisher specifically asked me to include more about me - my stroke and brain surgery story and how that led me toward work fostering care of both body and spirit. It's vulnerable to tell your story. But I believe it is important. I will tell parts of (because all those journals would never fit in one book!) my own story to escort you on the journey of body and spirit and to encourage you to embrace your story, after all.......these are God's stories!
Another reason my heart beats fast is because our son has been sick for weeks with sinus problems - which usually seems simple to heal - yet he has had many allergic reactions to medicines and it has simply been a very slow journey toward wellness. His body is tired and worn out. My body is tired as his caregiver (my awesome Fitbit helps me see how well I've rested and when I've moved, lately both have been lacking) and yet it proves I am ecstatic and full of energy at the same time (elevated heart rate!).
Recently, my grandmother (who is almost 95 and slightly frustrated with her body - as she broke a shoulder and hip last month) told me she always wanted to be a writer and that she could not imagine anything more important to write about than the spiritual life with God. My heart beats fast as I honor my grandmother and lean in to writing a book that I hope will help you draw closer to God with the gift of your own body!
My heart beats fast because God uses the gift of our bodies to help us listen and embrace our journeys (no matter your stage of life).
If you've made it this far in the post, surely you have questions because this is a unique approach to a devotional and emphasizes holy listening with your body. It will include yoga postures, breath prayers, aromatherapy, scripture passages for lectio divina, and of course journaling questions (tools we often use in spiritual direction and yoga)! I truly look forward to sharing more details with you soon! In the meantime, I'll be putting finishing touches on the book, finalizing lots of tiny details that most do not realize take place in publishing (I surely didn't), and gaining hands on experience caring for our son - in body and spirit.
Thanks for allowing my heart to beat fast as I share the news that #IAmWriting with you today! If you want to stay in the loop on details of the book (and I hope you will - there will be freebies along the way), sign up for my monthly(ish) newsletter below. The Upper Room has been a formational part of my faith journey, I'm ecstatic to be part of the Upper Room family of writers and look forward to what is to come. Hope you'll join me on the journey.
"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 yoga and meditation instructor. Both offer individuals an opportunity to practice being in the presence of God - literally.
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.
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.
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.
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,
Exploring Peace Ministries, LLC