Good Ways: An Update

Good Ways: An Update

My friends,

What a year this has been! It has been a great honor to host the wisdom of so many thoughtful friends in this space these last six months. Good Ways is taking a break for the next month as I focus my vocational energy elsewhere, but my hope is to launch a new round in October. (If you are interested in submitting a post for the series, please contact me. I’d love to hear from you!)

If you are looking for a new practice for connecting with God, whatever season of life you’re in, take some time to read through the Good Ways archives (or pick up a copy of A Good Way Through). My hope in all that happens on this page is that we, together, would be motivated and inspired into action. We can read and think and talk all day about meeting God, but we are transformed best through practice. 

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.
— Phillippians 4:8-9, The Message

If you’re looking for a bit more inspiration this month, I’ll be posting more of my own creative practices on Instagram (@agoodwaythrough) and Facebook (@kristenleighkludt), so join me in those spaces to continue the conversation. Or, even better—share about your own and tag me! I’d love to see what you’re up to.

I am so grateful for your presence in this space. It is an honor to have you.

With love,

-Krissy

P.S. Some things I love right now:

 

Consider the Lilies by Stephanie Jenkins

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Consider the Lilies by Stephanie Jenkins

This guest post is part of the Good Ways blog series, a collection of stories and practices for finding God in hardship.


“Not possible.” 

The words ring like a bell over the phone, summoning me out of the dream we dared to pursue despite our history of pain and the high risk. 

“Not possible,” says a second opinion. And then a third. 

Scouring the internet, pouring over long text banks of legalese, the harsh truth that indeed this dream is not possible finally sinks in.

Just a few days ago, my husband and I opened our hearts to the possibility of adopting a baby girl soon to be born on the other side of the border. Her mother’s aunt, a friend, reached out to us believing she’d found an answer to both her teen-aged niece’s desperation and our desire. Our hearts soared with hope as we jumped into action, but today we discovered international law prohibits this adoption.

This dead end is yet another in a long line of disappointments on our path to parenthood. Since I was a small child, I have longed to be a mother. For the past eight years, my husband and I have pursued this dream in myriad ways, yet still we remain a family of two.

With no resolution to our infertility or our childlessness, with little change in our desire to parent, we’ve carried our loss through the changing seasons of our lives. Sometimes it is a silent companion, content to sit in the corner unnoticed. Other times it is a raging fire threatening to consume us. 

Time has made this loss more quiet, more often. It has become more familiar and less frightening. We’ve even witnessed beautiful growth and opportunity sprout from the darkness of our loss. 

But there are days, like today, in the face of this heavy news, when the wound reopens and bleeds fresh, and the pain feels just as raw and deep as ever.

How does one continue to grieve the loss of something that never was?

Today my heart feels so heavy that it is literally hard to move. Every step feels laborious. Slowly I walk through my neighborhood and down into the Arroyo Seco—a dry and dusty natural area that hugs the edge of Los Angeles. 

arroyo.jpeg

As the asphalt underfoot shifts into the soft sand of the arroyo and the sky opens up into a wide expanse free from the usually trappings of telephone wires, I feel my body begin to relax. My breath comes more fluidly. The pain in my chest feels less sharp. 

In this wild space there is room to simply be. 

I am held by nature’s quiet presence—no demands or expectations. I don’t have to mask my pain or force a smile. Here in this open space, I am allowed to hurt. And this freedom makes my burden lighter. 

A prairie falcon cries out. I catch sight of its white breast curved like the crescent moon above. Two cotton-tailed rabbits dart into the safety of a sugar bush, and the wind makes the dry grasses sing. On the dusty trail, I find a bright green parrot feather. I hold it between my fingers, and the words of the psalmist rise up within me, “I will shelter you in the shadow of my wings.”*

Nothing has changed really. Yet in the beauty of the natural world around me, I sense my awareness shift and open to the comforting Presence of God pulsing in the arch of darkening sky, in the soft breeze against my skin, in the quiet confidence of the creatures who, as poet Wendell Berry puts it, “do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.”**

In Jesus’ sermon on the mount, he offers the following antidote to worry, “Consider the birds of the air,” he says, “…the lilies of the field.” *** I have found that this is also good medicine for grief. 

Loss can shrink my vision to the throbbing ache of my own wound. Turning outward into the rugged beauty of wild places, I find perspective. 

Here my senses are awakened and soothed. I am drawn outside myself. Instead of breathing in ragged gasps between sobs, I inhale the sweet scent of California bay laurels. Rather than tears, my eyes fill with the bright orange of poppies in bloom.  

In nature I find space for my loss. There is everywhere evidence of both life and death, darkness and light—it is a space where everything has its place, nothing is left out.  The cosmic dance of the created world in all of its variety is on display, and I am a part of it. Here I see my own grief as part of a larger story, one in which everything belongs. 

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Most significantly I sense in nature the deep and abiding Presence of the God who, in great love, created this world, created me. I breathe in this Presence, and in this radiant moment, my heart knows the truth it is always seeking: I am Beloved. This is enough. 

INVITATON TO PRACTICE:

  • Go outside. A patch of grass or shady tree will do.
  • Be in your body. Let your five senses engage with the space around you carrying you into a deeper experience of the present moment. 
  • Be present. Prayer is the simple recognition of the Presence of God right here, right now. In this space of beauty, can you sense the Creator’s presence? You are held just as you are in abundant Love. Can you bring your real and raw self into the awareness of this Love? 
  • Rest. Grief is exhausting. Rest here in Divine embrace. Maybe even take a nap!
  • Repeat. For me, this means sitting in my garden each morning and hiking once a week.

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Middle school teacher, foster mama, and creative contemplative, Stephanie Jenkins is a southern California native who currently lives in Los Angeles with her wonderful husband Billy. In addition to relishing time spent outdoors, she also enjoys yoga, art-making, poetry, and journaling.  


 *Psalm 91:4
 **Berry, Wendell. “The Peace of Wild Things.” The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry. Washington, D.C: Counterpoint, 1998. Print.
 ***Matthew 6:25-32

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Surrendering to Silence (or Tired Kids Won’t Sleep & I Can’t Rest) by Dave Kludt

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Surrendering to Silence (or Tired Kids Won’t Sleep & I Can’t Rest) by Dave Kludt

This guest post is part of the Good Ways blog series, a collection of stories and practices for finding God in hardship.


“Why won’t he fall asleep?”

“He’s too tired to fall asleep.”

“Huh?”

For me, the “I’m so tired but instead of sleeping I’m going to scream and cry and throw things and/or bite you” phenomenon is one of the most confounding realities of parenting.

It makes no sense. 

If you’re tired, fall asleep.

If you are having trouble falling asleep, close your eyes and be quiet and pretend to sleep.

If all else fails, count sheep or try to pray and chances are you’ll just fall asleep.

Generally, sleep is a pretty great thing and I’m pretty great at doing it so I’m pretty unsure why those kids of ours won’t sleep.

Rest is also a pretty great thing. Sleep is a part of rest, but so are quiet, solitude, contemplation, and prayer. God’s good and sacred vision for human flourishing involved a regular rhythm of rest (daily and weekly in addition to times of festival and celebration throughout the year). Rest is an invitation into the fullness of life. In the Scriptures, I think rest is framed as a command not because it is another hoop to jump through, but because rest is a critical component of our humanity. In the beginning, God created humans and not robots, and (even though I have a healthy respect for robots) this was a very good thing.

But a recent week I spent with my family in the wilderness of Yosemite gave me a glimpse of why tired kids won’t sleep. Even in the midst of the beautiful wilderness I had trouble surrendering to the soulful rest I knew I needed.  

The mental space I inhabit most of the day is incredibly noisy. There is the hum of technology. There is music blasting through headphones or speakers. There is my digital disorganization, with notes scattered across Asana and Gmail and Evernote and Notes and Dropbox. There are the endless advertisements that pop up from every direction. 

Technology does a great job creating compulsive tendencies. When my computer is open, I’ve caught myself loading social media sites in multiple tabs at once because, in scattered moments, my muscle memory takes over, moving my fingers across my keyboard to command + t + f + slight delay for Chrome to autofill facebook.com + return. Throughout the day, my hand instinctually reaches toward my front pocket where I often keep my phone. 

Last week, in the meadows of Yosemite outside of the range of cell service, the hum of technology was silenced as soon as we arrived at our campsite but my compulsion towards noise did not diminish so quickly. Even after entering quiet, the muscle memory, the digital allure, the ghost vibrations continued.

I came to this beautiful place to rest and play with my family—to live into the divine command to experience life as a rested human being—but my mind and my muscles were constantly listening for the noisy signals of my everyday soundtrack and reaching for the dopamine device that far too often accompanies me throughout my days. 

Eventually, after a few days, I was able to surrender to the silence, but this made me consider: are there new habits or practices I can form that would allow me to enter into rest without experiencing days of digital withdrawal?

Here are a few practices that I’m experimenting with as I seek to live into God’s good invitation and command to enter into rest:

  • Regularly, choose analog over digital (i.e. write a postcard instead of sending a text, listen to vinyl over streaming music, binge-read the book instead of binge-watching the show/movie).
  • Daily, create distance from technology (i.e. create & protect tech-free space throughout the house, refuse the impulse to start the work day with email, leave your phone at home while taking a neighborhood walk or going on short errands).
  • Annually, plan at least one multi-day rhythm that silences the hum. Get into the woods, go to a retreat center, and wear a hole in the “airplane mode” button on your device. Shut off the technology, patiently pray through the withdrawal, and enter into the rest.

Dave Kludt lives and serves in the East Bay outside San Francisco with a group of mostly-young, all-creative, Jesus-following sojourners called Open Door as the directional leader and Pastor of Mission and Formation. He rides bikes and trains, reads and writes as much and as broadly as possible, tries to grow plants, and watches Jurassic Park.

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The Cadence of Clarity and Peace by Mark Scandrette

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The Cadence of Clarity and Peace by Mark Scandrette

This guest post is part of the Good Ways blog series, a collection of stories and practices for finding God in hardship.


I used to think that my melancholy had to do with the external circumstances of my life; the sadness that comes from great disappointment, like the loss of a job or a death in the family. But I’ve gradually come to see that what happens and how I feel about it are not always related. Someone breaks into my car, stealing thousands of dollars of my stuff, and I feel nothing. A stranger leaves a critical comment under one my Facebook posts and I’m devastated. 

Recently I overheard my wife Lisa saying how difficult last year was for her. Later I asked what she was talking about. “Well,” she said, “You were hospitalized with viral meningitis and completely incapacitated for a month.” Oh, yeah, I forgot. I wonder why my being terribly ill would make Lisa’s year so hard and she might wonder why I can’t just let go of that one critical Facebook comment. What’s hard for me might not be hard for you, but we are all looking for a good way through.

There are predictable ways we search for comfort. When I’m sleep deprived I crave fatty foods, sugary snacks and naps. When I’m stressed or fatigued I want a glass of wine, a good T.V. show or an orgasm. When I’m sick or exhausted, I want solitude and silence. Sometimes when I’m discouraged I’ll talk to a friend. We naturally look for sources of solace, and food, sex, sleep, company and beauty can all provide a measure of what we need. But anything that helps us get through has its limits. Too much talk about my problems leaves me feeling like I’m needy and powerless. Too much wine, salty snacks or binge watching makes me feel blurry, bloated and lethargic. And sometimes silence or time with a journal only creates more space for me to obsess about whatever bamboozled me. 

When I’m sad, stressed, exhausted or overwhelmed, the practice that most reliably helps me is walking. Unlike so many of my other coping mechanism, the only downside to walking that I can think of is an occasional blister or sore feet.

I first discovered the magical healing power of a walk when I was an angsty and hormonal teenager. Desperate for time and space to process my complicated feelings I stopped taking the bus and started walking the two and a half miles each way to school and back. I didn’t have a Sony Walkman so I was free to meditate, pray and notice the grit and beauty of the city streets that surrounded me. 

In college my mind was flooded with questions and uncertainties. Who am I? Why are we here? What should I do and who can I spend my life with? I explored these questions on early morning wanders in the woods. Or, I’d take a solitary stroll down the moody streets of a low rent neighborhood at sunset.    

In my twenties, married, working, going to graduate school, and raising three kids, there was less space for quiet reflection. But sometimes in desperation, I would take a moonlit hike at midnight to sort out my thoughts. On summer evenings I would walk a child to sleep or clock miles on a trail while reading my seminary textbooks. 

For me walking creates a cadence that brings clarity and peace. When my body is occupied by movement my mind is free to wander and wonder. The rhythm of my steps resets my internal symmetry. I am open to what I see in front of me and and what is buried deep inside. 

I love the life I have as a teacher, writer and activist. But the flow of my work means that I am often jet lagged and over stimulated by public speaking and meeting new people. Too many days of creating and relating can leave me feeling spun out and emotionally discombobulated. I know what I need to do. Pack a water bottle, a jacket, sunscreen and some nuts and walk from morning until dusk. I walk myself back to equilibrium, slowly stepping down paths or cobblestone streets, stopping in a museum, garden or cafe. And then keep moving until my mind is clear and my soul is at rest and I can hardly take another step. Eight miles through cool gray San Francisco. Twelve miles criss-crossing the bridges of London. Fifteen miles wandering the arrondissements of Paris. Eighteen miles strolling the beaches and docklands of Sydney and Melbourne. Four miles along the freeway in Visalia.  

In the oldest stories of our ancestors, it is said they walked with God in the cool of the day. And I can relate. At the end of the day we find our rest, not by sitting, but by joining a peripatetic journey with the one in whom we live and move and have our being.    

God’s country, they call it, 
a land of sky wide sunrises
where water is king,
the divide between
bone dry desert and fertile green.

I walk the lonely back roads
through fields of tall corn and stone fruit
as men in oversized pick ups barrel past
kicking up the San Joaquin valley dust.

They call this the heartland, the bread basket
and beyond the miles of well ordered orange groves
the snow capped Sierra mountains hang
like pink and grey clouds on the horizon. 

What I see right in front of me,
is what falls off or gets tossed out of moving vehicles
a stray bolt, old tire tread,
piles of worn out shoes and baby clothes,
beer bottles, condoms, tobacco tins,
rodeo flyers and McDonald’s cups.

The heartland doesn’t look as beautiful
when seen close up. 
I see the landscape as I see myself.
Searching for treasure amongst the debris
Hunting for a view of the sky among the trees
Hoping the truck behind me doesn’t speed up or stop, 
Veering towards the ditches just to be safe. 

At sunset the temperature drops
A stray cats purrs
A cool breeze blows
Hush falls over the valley
Glowing with the possibilities of a new day tomorrow. 


Mark Scandrette is a teacher, activist and coach for leaders and teams who want to create a better world from the inside out. He is the founder of ReIMAGINE, one of the key creative shapers of the NINE BEATS Collective, and author of several books including FREE, Belonging and Becoming and Practicing the Way of Jesus

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Let it Come, Let it Go... by Nancy Lindroth

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Let it Come, Let it Go... by Nancy Lindroth

This guest post is part of the Good Ways blog series, a collection of stories and practices for finding God in hardship.


Generally I love my life. I feel more blessed at age 60 than I ever could have anticipated. Yet, even in the midst of a “normal” life I struggle with anxiety. My wiring, a six on the enneagram for those who know it, enables me to anticipate challenges, see around corners, bring things together and recognize how everything and everyone fits together to create a better world, a safer world, a happier world. But that has its downsides. 

I work at a church and am fondly called “chief of staff” by the Senior Pastor. Sometimes I think that means if anyone or anything is messed up, I’ll take care of them, fix it, get things back on track. I realize how much my wiring fits this. My boss has said more than once “your anxiety helps us.” But it can also easily get on overdrive and drive me and everyone around me crazy! So when anxiety starts to overwhelm my insides (too many people and things to “fix”) I have learned to recognize anxiety starting to control me. I take a step back, breathe deeply, and recalibrate. Years of therapy, prayer and practices have allowed me to gain peace and perspective. At least some of the time!

When my anxiety is in charge, I often struggle to accept reality. I have a strong sense of how things should be: how I should feel or act and how others should feel or act.  I don’t listen to the moment, the person, or God. Instead I project what I want to be true onto others, and work to make it so. Then I become the great controller of all things, and those around me sense that. And fortunately I have begun to sense that in myself. 

I have learned that I need a gentle acceptance. God’s grace brings freedom: freedom to fully accept the truth in myself, in others and in the world around me. I am free because it is all going to be okay. A perfect God’s love for me, and others, and the world is boundless and in complete control. God will make a way for each person, each situation. I don’t need to be the fixer, but instead the responder, lover, friend, and mentor. Working from a place of reality, not a secure place of my own making. 

Several years ago my daughter gave me a copy of the welcome prayer. I keep it in my Bible. I have learned to practice “welcome” and “letting go” when the overwhelming feelings come.  I can now do this on the fly in the middle of a situation, but only after many times of working through this line by line on a regular basis. I did this daily for many days, then once a week, and now as needed, every month or so. I fill in my own words where the bold is with very specific things, writing them in my journal. And I follow it with some silent centering prayer. And most often I come away calm, and renewed in my trust of God. Settled, and at peace. 

Welcome, welcome, welcome. 

I welcome everything that comes to me in this moment because I know it is for my healing.
I welcome all thoughts, feelings, emotions, persons, situations and conditions. 
I let go of my desire for security.
I let go of my desire for approval.
I let go of my desire for control. 
I let go of my desire to change any situation, condition, person, or myself. 
I open to the love and presence of God and the healing action and grace within.

––– Mary Mrozowski 1925-1993

A good friend shared a phrase God gave him during a difficult time that has the same nature of the welcome prayer. “Let it go, let it come.” I use this as my mantra during the day to awaken the Spirit of God in my heart and mind. I say it this way: “Let it come….Let it go….Trust.” 

This has become the 10 second practice I use when I feel the tension rising in my encounters with people, situations, conditions, or myself.

And God’s gentle reply is this: “I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, do not fear: I will help you.” Isaiah 41:13


Nancy Lindroth has served on staff of Blackhawk Church in Madison Wisconsin for 18 years. She is married to Rick who is a Professor of Ecology at UW Madison. They have two grown daughters (both are married to wonderful pastors—ministry must run in the family) and two grandsons. When she is not working, Nancy enjoys reading, journaling, art, road-biking, hiking and fly-fishing with her husband, and visiting her daughters who live on opposite sides of the country. You can read more of her writing here

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 Who Am I? by Rachel Powers

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Who Am I? by Rachel Powers

This guest post is part of the Good Ways blog series, a collection of stories and practices for finding God in hardship.


Have you ever felt a loss of identity?  Or confused about who you are or who you are supposed to be?  I have.  At one point I believed that I was nothing; worthless.  I had lost my health in such a way that left me trapped with no end and no escape from constant debilitating pain in my head and in my entire body.  I’d been struggling to fight for survival five years already.  The constant need for help made me feel a burden to those around me, and I so longed to be a blessing.  I believed if I could be a blessing I would have value and identity.  My hope for a future of happiness was gone, all that I thought I would and could become; as a professional, friend, wife, mom, daughter, sister and woman, just snatched away.  There was nothing good left of the “me” I thought I was.

All alone and hopeless, I knelt in front of our couch.  I cried, “God, I’m completely lost.  I’ve done all I can to get well.  Nothing helps.  Any choice I make at this point will lead to more pain.  I don’t want to live through the suffering that inevitably awaits me.  I can’t handle the pain, the sadness, the confusion, the loss, the struggle to survive any more.  I’m done.  I don’t want my life anymore.  I hate my life.  All that I do and try feels worthless and destructive.  If YOU can bring something useful and good out of what’s left of me and my pathetic shell of a body that’s broken and hurting, You can have me.  I’m sorry for doubting You, Your love for me and that You are good.  I’m sorry for holding You responsible for my pain.  I’m sorry for the resentment I’ve had towards You and others who have hurt me.  Forgive me.  Please reveal Yourself to me.”

All of a sudden it was as if a giant weight was lifted off of me, off of my heart; like I could breath deeply and laugh genuinely for the first time in my whole life. 

Depression had been a struggle since childhood.  I remember lying in bed at five years old, paralyzed with wishing I had never been born, and not knowing why.  There had always been this cloud in my mind and heart that was sad and heavy.  My life may have looked easy on the outside, but it felt hard and lonely on the inside.  Then my external health began to imitate the internal.  Doctors had no answers for my symptoms, there were no explanations, no understanding of what was happening to me.  I had a constant “WHY?” in my mind for every ache and pain, day after day, month after month, year after year.  But in this transformative moment, the “WHY” no longer mattered.  Joy overwhelmed me.  A prayer of rejoicing, like a song, just poured out of my mouth.  I didn’t want it to stop.  My mind was saturated with the thought that God was indeed good and worthy of my trust.  And MY understanding or not understanding the “why’s” in my life or in anyone else’s life, was suddenly no longer an obstacle in believing in a truth so much bigger than me.  

I had been looking to God for a miracle.  And until He would give me some sign that He was going to help me in my pain, I was not going to be content or trust that He was good.  I wanted Him to meet me on MY terms.  But He had already done the miracle; laying down His life willingly for mine, so I could experience knowing Him and being loved by Him with no strings attached.  FREE LOVE!  Was that not enough?  Until this moment, it had not been enough for me.  Until I laid down my expectation of Him, I was unable to fully receive, experience and appreciate His love.  Once that happened, I discovered my value rested simply in the fact that I had breath and could use it to rejoice in a God that is good.  My identity is simply BEING a child of God; a child that is known and loved, just because.  Do you have a child?  Have you longed for a child?  God longed for you and He loves you just because you are His.

Fear is the obstacle to Joy; fear of the future, fear of pain, fear of failure, fear of loneliness, fear of abandonment, fear of what others think, fear of not being enough.  Trust and gratitude are the antidote.  Laying down the fear and choosing trust and gratitude is an intentional discipline.  It takes work.  There is always something to be grateful for and when I meditate on those things, and trust that God is bigger than my understanding, JOY comes. 

Eventually answers regarding my health did come, treatments happened and my health improved.  Once I completely surrendered myself to Him, God took my suffering and used it to reveal my worth and identity as His beloved child.  My heart feels FREE; free to love, free to embrace, free to care, free to sing, free dance, free to BE.  He healed my heart and in time my body followed.

A practice we use in our home daily is to verbalize and rejoice in truth.  There are so many lies that continue to bombard our minds, seeking to kill, steal and destroy the JOY available to us.  Words have power.  So choose words of TRUTH.  Make a list or collage, hang truth on your walls, wallpaper your mind with it. 

Every night before going to sleep, I turn to my best friend; my partner; my husband and ask him to speak some truths over me, and he does.  He reminds me who I am and of all the good.  It never gets old to hear it. 

“Always be joyful.  Never stop conversing with God.  Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s desire for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18


Rachel Powers enjoys being a Fitness Instructor, a Wellness Advocate for DoTERRA and an Actor/Singer/Dancer/Model.  She works at Lareen Fender’s The Ballet School, Pure Barre WC, and Forma Gym, while residing in Walnut Creek, CA with her husband Adam, daughter Lucy and cat Carmel. 

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What Are Your Hopes? by Lisa Scandrette

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What Are Your Hopes? by Lisa Scandrette

This guest post is part of the Good Ways blog series, a collection of stories and practices for finding God in hardship.


Evidence of my life’s work thus far is everywhere. As I enter my house, to the right is a bookshelf filled with titles like “The Joy of Science,” “Greek Myths,” lectures on “The Great American Musical,” and numerous history titles. In the living room, my shelf holds Greek plays, “My Antonia,” “Frankenstein,” and works on both world wars. My kids and I dove deep in that well together and drank it all in. We splashed around and luxuriated in our books and learning experiences. There are many volumes there waiting with promise for us to delve into as well. Books waited for our attention—that I bought with every intention of reading, but never got around to. The books are intoxicating. I want to read all of them. I want to live for a while in their pages and swim in their ideas. 

If I go into our attic and look at the books there, they outline a history of our education—my kids’ education and the one I received while teaching them over sixteen years of homeschooling. There is richness there. I have read beyond what I believed myself capable of. I have facilitated the learning of history, English, Biology, Chemistry, Algebra, and more, and in the process have deepened my own knowledge. I have built a culture of sharing knowledge. I love this world, particularly when it just is…a world of learning because learning is our job. I love seeing connections being made and those “Eureka!” moments. I love when one of us is so excited about a discovery that the words just tumble out on top of themselves. And I love when one path of learning leads to another and we can keep following those new paths until we hardly remember how we got there. Of course, there were times of slogging, times that were less joyful, but it was deep, meaningful work for me.

Starting in 2012, I started reaching the end of this iteration of the job. My oldest had begun her university studies. And because my kids are close in age, all three had begun college by 2015. The pieces of my life felt loose—as if someone has taken my 1000 piece puzzle, disassembled it, magically changed the shape of the pieces, and handed it back. Most of it needed to be remade. I wanted to make a plan. I wanted to know what was next. How will I use my skills to be of use in the world? How will I structure my days? What is my five year plan? At this point, I couldn’t begin to imagine it. I didn’t know how to make this transition. Change is uncomfortable and nearly everything about my days is changing.

Some of my friends speculated that I just couldn’t let go of my kids. Honestly, there was some normal needing to let go of grown kids. But layered on that was a sense of grief and loss. I told my husband, “You are just reaching your stride in your career…just getting really good at the work you feel called to, and able to let go of the things you are not good at and should let others do.” For me, at that same moment in my life, I have worked myself out of the job I love and am skilled at. I am grieving that loss. And I am anxious to see if my work will truly measure up. Will my kids have the tools they need to succeed in university, or will they come back to me and tell me I have not prepared them? A book I read at the time suggested that in a healthy transition, we both grieve what we are losing and embrace new possibilities. I had the grieving part down, though I felt embarrassed at my emotions. What was harder was seeing the possibilities.

With my mix of grief and anxiety, I could not formulate a plan. In the middle of this period, I had a spiritual direction session with a mentor. One of the things she said was “faith is being sure of what we hope for. What are your hopes?” She encouraged me to make a box of my hopes filled with images of my ideas, hopes and longings.  When I got home I found a sparkly gold hexagonal box among my things. On the lid, I glued a strip of paper that said “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” I gathered pretty paper scraps and cut them in the same shape as the box. Each morning I wrote a hope on a hexagon of beautiful paper, praying to inhabit those longings. As I did, I realized that most of my hopes had to do with who I wanted to become and the kinds of relationships I had with others. Who do you want to be? That is a question I could answer. And it was something I could live towards immediately. Here were things I could imagine: “I want to enjoy a vibrant relationship with Mark in this next phase of life,” “I want to keep learning,” “I want to live simply and beautifully, enjoying what I have,” or “I want to appropriately love and support my children at this stage in their life,” “I want to live towards compassion and justice.”  Slowly, I began to see ways to move towards the hopes God had placed in me. I could see the possibilities.

This practice helped me to breathe more freely, to relax in to waiting for the answer to “What will I do?” to begin to work itself out. Frankly, if you asked me what I will do at this stage in life, I still don’t have a plan or a long term answer. I am saying yes to projects that fit with who I want to become in the world, trusting that the “what I will do” will continue to emerge from that.


Lisa Scandrette loves creating with her hands, connecting with neighbors near and far, and beautiful stories. She lives with and enjoys adventuring with her husband Mark and is enjoying every day that their three adult kids still live with them in their little Victorian in the Mission District of San Francisco. Together, Mark and Lisa are co-authors of Belonging and Becoming: Creating a Thriving Family Culture and Free: Spending Your Time and Money on What Matters Most. 

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An Invisible Force by Shauna Springer

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An Invisible Force by Shauna Springer

This guest post is part of the Good Ways blog series, a collection of stories and practices for finding God in hardship.


We are never very good at predicting what we are going to feel in the future. In 2016, during an Open Door women's retreat, I spoke about wanting to make a bigger impact on the heart-rending tragedy of Veteran suicide. Less than a year later, through a string of miraculous events, I now have the opportunity to do just that, to serve as the suicide prevention senior advisor for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), an organization I have held in very high respect from a distance for a long time. 

As I made the departure announcement to colleagues at the VA (in a Veterans behavioral health clinic), I was initially focused on what I was going to be doing next, filled with hope and excitement for what the next chapter would bring. What I didn't expect was to feel such an impact of grief – the direct result of severing ties with the hundreds of Veteran patients I have worked with for the past eight years at the VA. This grief has been profound.

I have lived in nearly every time zone and whenever I have severed an attachment in the past, I have always been able to find solace in the idea that “true friends easily pick up where they left off.” My husband and I are blessed to have friends like this, including two very dear friends we hadn’t seen in 8 years that we recently stayed with in Australia with my remaining vacation leave balance. Even with very little contact, I’ve felt able to hold attachments to dear friends like these because there's always the hope of the future reunion. 

But it isn't the same with my former patients - in the vast majority of cases, I will never see them again. I have walked alongside them in their most sacred pain, and known them through critical times of transition in their lives – marriages, births, and deaths of family members and friends. In most cases, that very private, safe place in my office was the only touch point we ever had or could expect to have in the future. And no matter what they tell you about “clinical reserve” in graduate school training, if your heart is really in the work, it creates an attachment. It's certainly a unique kind of attachment in that my patients know very little about me and they are not there to serve my needs, but my heart has been fully invested in their growth and recovery. So, there is a strong attachment nonetheless and one that could not translate into the way I have been able to hold other disrupted attachments.

As I began to sever ties with them, some of them went into crisis and it was a very scary, turbulent time for them and for me. I had nightmares that about them, thought about them all the time, worried over them, prayed for them, and struggled with how to let them go. 

In the context of this time of suffering, I developed a spiritual practice that gave me a good way through. This practice was an adaptation of how I have helped people grieve other types of losses. First, I had to realize that this was indeed grief. Second, I had to acknowledge that grief was the appropriate emotion to feel. Essentially, I needed to get comfortable with the fact that I was experiencing attachment loss as an extension of doing the work with my whole heart, and this is not pathological.

Once these two connections were made, I was able to rely on what I know about healthy grieving. As I have told my patients, a healthy grief journey is one that allows us to remain connected with the one we have lost, rather than making it our goal to forget about them and move on. So, in those final poignant sessions with my patients, I locked the memory of their faces and voices in my mind. I strained to listen to everything they said in the context of terminating our therapeutic relationship. 

As Veterans generally are, they were extremely generous in spirit. Some of them acknowledged that it “really sucked” but without exception, they thanked me and gave me words of encouragement. They told me that they believe in me and that they would always have my back if I ever needed them. So that is where I have placed them in my mind. They are standing right behind me. I can almost hear them because I know what they would say. For example, I was recently traveling to the reunion of some Marines in a Unit that has seen an especially high suicide rate. I had a terrible sinus infection and the descent in the plane was excruciatingly painful - so much that it brought tears to my eyes from the sheer physical pain. I felt like my head was going to explode or maybe that I would have a stroke or something. But then I heard the faint echo of the voice of one of my patients behind me, saying "embrace the suck doc" (which is how Marines effectively say, "just lean into the pain and you will get through it"). 

When I assemble them as an invisible mental force, I can easily call them to mind. I can continue to hold and carry their stories. I can pray for them as a group and I do. I can honor them in the next chapter of my life. I can draw from their strength to be bold as I work on their behalf. 

God has said that his power is manifest in our weakness. In my new role, I have already had several experiences that remind me of this truth, and they are often mediated by the collective strength of the invisible force at my back that I am now working to serve. I still miss my patients, sometimes acutely, but as in any healthy grief journey, I also can access the happy memories of our conversations, recall some hilarious stories they shared, and I know that I have a way to hold them close as I move forward in this new chapter of my life. This has been a good way through for me.


Invitation to Practice:

Grief may be a part of the process of transitions for any of us who serve in helping professions. Recognize it when it surfaces and make a decision to honor this attachment by creating a clear mental image of those you have traveled with that you can carry with you on your journey forward. 


Shauna Springer, Ph.D., is the Senior Advisor of Suicide Prevention for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS). She has particular expertise in attachment processes, trauma recovery, innovative suicide prevention approaches, relationship counseling, peer support program development, and Veteran’s issues, including post-discharge adjustment and strategies for engaging Veterans in behavioral health care. For the past eight years, Dr. Springer has served as a front line mental health provider for hundreds of Veterans, helping them see their worth in the community, re-connect with their warrior family, and build hope to live for those who didn’t come home and those they fight for still. Dr. Springer is a licensed Psychologist with an undergraduate degree from Harvard University and a Doctoral degree from the University of Florida.

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Why Do I Do This? by Paul LeFeber

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Why Do I Do This? by Paul LeFeber

This guest post is part of the Good Ways blog series, a collection of stories and practices for finding God in hardship.


When I was 15 my friends and I started a ska band. That’s right, a ska band. Horns and everything. We played every church basement in town, and had an absolute ball doing it. It was a pure creative energy. 

When we were in our 20s we started to take the band real serious. We had dreams of playing for thousands and making a living. We made new recordings to sell and promoted ourselves to anybody who would listen. All of this of course meant we could no longer be a ska band. Who takes ska music seriously?

Toward the end we started to get pretty desperate. We wanted things to work because we loved it so much. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to make it, earn money, to get to the next level. The glory days we experienced when we were younger never really returned. 

Eventually we signed up for a music competition. I know…we weren’t exactly thinking clearly. The television show “Showtime at the Apollo” was coming through town as part of a national talent search. You could win the chance to be on the TV show. Seemed like a good idea at the time.  

Alongside about 20 other artists we showed up to perform the night of the show. The hall was filled with several thousand people ready to either cheer us on or boo us off the stage. That’s how it works. It’s all about audience approval. 

Midway through the show we walked on stage and started to play. About 5 seconds into our song the audience started to boo. It started with just a few people, but it grew louder and louder until the sound was overwhelming. In all our dreaming we never imagined it would come to this, being booed offstage by several thousand people. It was humiliating. 

I kept it together long enough to gather up my gear and make it out to the parking lot. A friend who had been in the audience was waiting for me. He looked at me like I had just backed my car into a lake. He reached out to give me a hug and I started to cry. I remember well the words that came out choked. “Why? Why do I do this?”

In those days, had I been more honest with myself, the answer was clear. I wanted success and everything that comes with it. I wanted approval and respect. I wanted people to admire me. I wanted to stand out. I wanted to be important, someone people listen to. I wanted to matter. 

Does any of that sound familiar? 

The world functions on an economy of power, successes, and usefulness. The work of your hands either accomplishes something good and worthwhile - something useful - or it doesn’t. The message we get over and over again is to try harder, do more, produce, succeed. 

No wonder artists and creative types have a reputation for being moody. We often end up on the fringes of society. We’re prone to discouragement and depression. What good are we?

What is the use of a painting? What good is a poem? Why write a novel about pretend people’s problems when we’ve got a world full of real problems to deal with? Why choreograph a dance to communicate an emotion? Isn’t it easier to just use emoticons?

Ultimately, though, artists are at their best when they’re useless. It is in being useless that we find kinship with the useless people of this world. It’s in being useless that we allow God to be God, and us not. It is being useless that we understand grace. Art and grace live in the same house. They belong to the same space. Art is grace. 

I’d like to suggest a practice to help remind you that being useless is ok. Find that creative or artistic thing you love to do, and then do it. But do it simply for the joy of doing it. 

Write a poem, and don’t show it to anyone. Put on some music and just dance. Sing a song all alone. Get together with some friends and harmonize. Play your instrument just for the joy of playing it. Write about something you love to write about before you write something you “need” to write. Draw or paint something with no agenda, no preconceived notions of what you’ll use it for, or who you’ll show it to. 

Getting booed off stage reminded me how easy it is to forget why I do what I do. My sense of self and accomplishment were assaulted and I had to go back to the beginning. Why do I do this? To accomplish or succeed? Not in the beginning. When it all started I did it because I loved it, and that was more than enough.  


Paul LeFeber is a pastor in Portland, Oregon. He plays music and speaks regularly. He spends as much time as he can with his wife Mariah and daughters Adah and Junia. Learn more about the church where he serves at newhopepdx.org.

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Overcoming the Lies by Rebecca Olson

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Overcoming the Lies by Rebecca Olson

This guest post is part of the Good Ways blog series, a collection of stories and practices for finding God in hardship.


Last fall I started going to therapy. 

One year before, I left my full-time job to be home with my daughter more. Then, that spring, I launched a life coaching business with the hopes it would bring in the income we needed to sustain my staying home part-time.  To be honest, the whole change felt like we were walking the plank over deep waters. I was changing careers, choosing a life of less money and less security and there was no guarantee it would work out.  The song Oceans by Hillsong comes to mind, “You call me out upon the waters, the great unknown, where feet may fail…” It felt like I was being called out of a boat and very possibly I would fall straight into the sea.

Within a few months of launching my life coaching business, I felt paralyzed: Where would I get clients? How could I grow the business with a young toddler at home? What if I don’t make enough money? I struggled with what others thought of me. If they thought I was making the right the choice, if they thought I could even make it as a life coach. I feared failure and I feared hardship. 

These thoughts were not new for me. The situation they were surfacing in was new, but the thoughts were old and familiar and they halted all movement forward. There was no way I could grow my business with these questions and fears haunting my thoughts. I either needed to work through them or my business, and ultimately the stay-at-home life I was seeking, would fail. And so, I started seeing a therapist. 

Therapy is the beginning of a journey and you must be willing to face whatever surfaces in order to illicit change. My hope was that it would uncover hidden truths that might otherwise never come to light. I am grateful for what came out of my time in therapy. Though it was hard, I believe lasting change has taken place and I am better equipped to navigate the issues I face. 

Three main issues surfaced during my time in therapy: 

  1. I am a people-pleaser who looks toward others to validate who I am
  2. I need to always appear as an expert and will never do anything that might make me appear otherwise
  3. I am hyper-critical of myself and tend to subconsciously repeat my “failures” over and over in my head, which in turn, clouds any joy or success I may have 

After becoming aware of these three self-sabotaging mindsets, I had to make a choice: continue on as normal (where I would continue to be immobilized by these mindsets) or face them with the hope of lasting change. Of course, change doesn’t happen overnight, it would likely take many years to overcome a way of thinking that is deeply ingrained in me. It would be a journey. And so it began… 

To start, I did a few key practices that provided a foundation to begin uprooting my old way of thinking. 

Practice #1: Name the Truth:

Identify the lie, counter it with truth and find scripture to back it up. 

Lie: I need others to validate who I am. 

Truth: I am valuable because my God has deemed me so. 

Scripture: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; and before you were born, I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet.” Jeremiah 1:5

Lie: I should always be the best at everything I do. 

Truth: It is ok to grow and get better at something. 

Scripture: “For the Lord gives wisdom, from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.”  Proverbs 2:6

I have come back to this practice often. My hope is to make it a habit so that as an old mindset surfaces, I am able to immediately counter it with truth. It also helps to read through the truths/scripture I have already stated so as to make the thinking more habitual. 

Practice #2: Prayer Coloring:

Write the thing or person you are praying for and then color in and around it, thereby creating a little prayer doodle for each item you pray for. I used Sybil MacBeth’s book, Praying in Color to provide templates for my prayer coloring practice. In this case, I listed out all the ways I could think that God had faithfully provided for me and as I wrote and colored each one, I remembered and thanked Him for His provision. The practice built up my trust in Him, allowing me to put my business and our finances just a little bit more in His hands. 

Since I started therapy last fall, my circumstances haven’t changed much and I still find myself asking the same questions: How will I grow my business? Will I make enough money at this? What do others think? But I have been able to counter these self-sabotaging thoughts with truth and trust and have thus begun to live a life in less fear and with more freedom. As I said, it will likely take many years to overcome mindsets that are deeply ingrained in me…but I am grateful the journey has begun. 

 


Rebecca Olson is a life coach, primarily working with mompreneurs who are seeking to grow their business while balancing life at home. She helps them create a vision for their life and business while setting manageable goals and navigating the challenges of motherhood. She is a mother of two in Albany, CA where she and her family love to walk the neighborhood. You can connect with her further at www.rebeccaolsoncoaching.com or on facebook.

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When My Words Ran Dry by Maria

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When My Words Ran Dry by Maria

This guest post is part of the Good Ways blog series, a collection of stories and practices for finding God in hardship.


I worked as a hospice chaplain for four months. I would divide my days between our fifteen-bed inpatient unit and visiting the dying and their families in their homes. I worked with a small team of nurses and a couple of social workers—compassionate people who had deliberately choosen to work with the dying. 

One day I came into work and found our small team rocked by a suicide that had occurred the night before. Our manager called us into the conference room, shared what was known about the situation, and gave us space to share whatever was on our minds and hearts. Most of the team was still in shock. I was heartbroken by the tragedy and overwhelmed by the grief I felt in the room. I listened as others spoke, tears filling their eyes. As our time drew to a close, the manager turned to me and asked, “Maybe we could close with a prayer?” 

I looked around the room cramped with red-eyed staff. I had only been there a few months, yet they were all looking to me for words to bring some solace in the tragedy. As much as I wanted to comfort them, I also wanted to nod my head no and refuse to offer a prayer. I felt like my words had already been spent praying for the dying and their families. All the images of hope and faith and love I had to offer had already been sent along with patients to the grave. Everything I had left was weak and thin and would only come out strained. Fortunately, I found the words to pray, words that seemed honest and spoke some light into the darkness of the tragedy. I walked out of the room spiritually exhausted. It wasn’t even 9am.

When I was interviewing for the job as a hospice chaplain, I wasn’t expecting how hard it would be to be surrounded by death and dying forty hours a week. I had worked as a chaplain in several hospitals and had become comfortable being with patients and families at the end of life. It was sad, yes, but I developed resilience and could go on. Hospice was different. Every patient I met and came to care about would eventually die. Every family I sat with for hours would eventually leave at the height of their grief, following their loved one out of the building to watch as their bodies were loaded into the funeral home van. The social worker on my team would simply say, “that’s what they came here for,” and move on. I couldn’t. The grief piled on and I found myself growing more melancholy. When called on to pray at the time of death, my words became stale and repetitive. My ability to find hope and joy in suffering had fatigued. My sense of God being present in the grief had dulled. I just didn’t have anything to say anymore.

A few days later I asked my priest if I could come in for a visit. I needed to talk. I knew, walking down the hall of our church to her office, that I would end up crying within the first few minutes of our conversation. The pain and the hopelessness were all right there, under the surface, ready to burst forth. She did for me what I do for others—listened with compassion and openness, undeterred by my tears and suffering. But then she asked about my own spiritual life. What did I do outside of work to stay connected to God? To find renewal? To engage hope? I told her the truth. After a day of spiritual heavy lifting at work, the last thing I wanted to do was engage in spiritual disciplines at home. It would be like coming home from a day of flipping burgers in a fast food kitchen only to be asked by your spouse to put some meat on the grill for dinner. It was the last thing I wanted to do.

She told me about one of her own spiritual practices—praying the Divine Office with a breviary. She pulled out a beautifully bound book, The Saint Helena Breviary, and showed me the pages filled with written prayers and passages of scripture. The Divine Office, also known as the Daily Office or Liturgy of the Hours, is the ancient spiritual practice of saying a fixed set of prayers several times a day, often morning, noon, evening, and night. The prayers change throughout the day and throughout the liturgical calendar of the church and are often guided by a breviary, the book that contains all the prayers and texts. 

There are a lot of great resources for praying the Divine Office, including The Divine Hours by Phyllis Trickle, Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals by Shane Claiborne, The Missio Dei Breviary by Mark Van Steenwyk, and Celtic Daily Prayer from the Nothumbria Community. Many liturgical traditions have also developed their own form of the Daily Office. In my tradition, many use the Office contained in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer for their daily prayers and scripture reading.

Praying daily with a breviary did something for me that I was struggling to do on my own: It gave me words. On the days when grief and sorrow overwhelmed me, it spoke truth into my life through written prayers and passages of scripture. When I felt alone in my work, it connected me to a broader community of prayer, scattered around the country praying the same prayers with me each morning and evening. And on the days when my words ran dry, it connected me to God through poetic language, beautiful imagery, and hopeful theology that I could not create myself. 


Maria is now working as a chaplain at a large university hospital and children’s hospital. When she’s not working or praying the Daily Office, she enjoys biking, yoga, backpacking, photography, and listening to podasts.

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Finding Hope in Unmet Longing by Nikki Dunham

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Finding Hope in Unmet Longing by Nikki Dunham

This guest post is part of the Good Ways blog series, a collection of stories and practices for finding God in hardship.


We all grow up envisioning what our lives will look like in the years to come. We fantasize and create expectations of what life will be like. But what happens when our plan is not God’s plan? What happens when the deepest desires of our hearts are not met?

Four years ago, my husband, Seth, and I decided to set out on the journey to grow our family. We eagerly anticipated decorating a nursery, cuddling with our baby, and creating traditions with our kids. These were all things we hoped and anticipated God had in store for us, but we could not have predicted the adventure he would take us on. After over a year of trying it was clear that this journey would not be as easy as we had hoped. The darkness began to set in. Questions began to fill our hearts. Simply facing the facts and scheduling an appointment with a fertility specialist was an act of surrender. But as we began testing and met with the doctor, a new hope began to sprout. It didn’t last long.

As each cycle of treatment failed, the darkness settled and began to choke out any hope. We confided in family and a few close friends, which slightly eased the pain, at least for a time. But the disappointment at the end of each cycle sank deeper with every passing month. Baby announcements and baby showers turned into monthly photo updates, which turned into yearly photo updates—each one marking the time in which we were still waiting. Mother’s days passed, each year yet another reminder that I was still not a mother. We began to feel isolated. While we had friends who had similar experiences, no one we knew had endured it so long, and all had come out on the other side with a baby in their arms. 

And yet, I knew that God would be faithful. He has been faithful through all generations, why would he stop now? It was in those darkest moments I had to combat the lies of the enemy with the truths of my Father.

“You’re all alone.”

“I will never leave you or forsake you, when you pass through the waters, I will be with you, when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.”

“You’re not strong enough for this.”

“I am the strength of your life, you are more than a conqueror through my son.”

“Your life won’t be fulfilling unless you have a child.”

“I am more than enough for you.”

“All of this is in vain.”

“I work all things for the good of those who love me.”

 

It was in working through these truths that I found my way in the dark. Jesus came before and was walking with me still. I wasn’t strong enough for it, but God was. I am not defined by my lack of children; I am enough, just as I am. I didn’t have to wait until it was over, God would begin redeeming it right then. It was the perspective that by going through this, I now had something to offer others who are or will be hurting in the same way. This was the light that began to guide me out of the dark. 

I started a journal. I wrote the details of our journey, emotions, prayers, and questions. But all too often, I couldn’t find the right words. In those moments I turned to the words of others. I opened the scriptures. I listened to lyrics. In the words of other believers who have gone before me, I found the cry of my heart. So I made their words mine, writing and illustrating the words and feelings I was experiencing. It relieved the pressure to come up with the right words. It allowed me the freedom to simply be in that moment. 

But the journal wasn’t for me. It was meant to be shared, to allow other young women going through infertility to know they are not alone in the feelings and questions they have. To share the poems, scripture, and lyrics that brought peace and hope. While I haven’t had the opportunity to share the whole thing with someone yet, I have shared pages or excerpts from it. Even that has proven to be rewarding. Although this journal was certainly an extension of myself and the grief I felt, it took the focus off me. It gave my pain purpose. It gave me hope. If through this I could ease the pain of other women walking the same path, it was worth going through. 

Too often when going through trials we become completely self-focused. But when we can’t see beyond our situation, we miss out on where God is working in the midst of it. So don’t ignore the pain, but embrace it, and move forward through it. As of today, we still don’t have a baby in our arms. Your circumstances may never change, but your heart will. His story is far better than whatever we have imagined for ourselves. Allow the story God is writing for your life to transform you and extend the offer of transformation to others. It will be worth it.

So when you find yourself lost in the dark, consider journaling for those who will come after you. Someday, another will be walking the path you are, in search of the right words. Your journal may be just what they need. You might even find that in writing it, it is exactly what you need.

What do you include in the journal?

  • Thoughts and emotions
  • Questions
  • Prayers
  • Poems
  • Lyrics
  • Pictures
  • Sketches
  • Anything that has brought you hope

 

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” 
[2 Corinthians 1:3-4]


Nicole Dunham lives in Charlotte, North Carolina with her husband Seth. She works with the Women’s Ministry at Church at Charlotte and as an athletic trainer for Novant Health. She spends her time keeping their two huskies out of trouble and volunteering with the high school ministry. A recent transplant from Colorado, she is still trying to find the mountains people are talking about but loves camping and exploring the Appalachian Hills.

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It Didn't Use to Be Like This by Ben Sanders

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It Didn't Use to Be Like This by Ben Sanders

This guest post is part of the Good Ways blog series, a collection of stories and practices for finding God in hardship.


“It didn't used to be like this. I didn't used to be like this…”

It's the mantra that swirls in my mind when I'm having an anxiety attack. My neck lights up bright red and my brain starts shutting down. I feel my heart rate increasing and no matter what breathing techniques I try, I can't slow it back down. I'm so aware of it happening that I start grasping for things to say, questions to ask the people in front of me, anything at all so I can have a normal reaction with whoever is in front of me… but when it comes time to speak, my brain and my mouth aren't aligned, and even worse, my body is in a state near panic.

I didn't used to be like this.

Over the past decade I underwent the most dramatic internal growth spurt of my life. I was confident, funny, authentic, compassionate and didn't have to try so hard. I started my own video production agency, had great friends, great community, a wonderful wife, and eventually we started popping out wonderful children.

Once the kids entered the scene we were having the time of our lives in new ways, though those amazing times were also mixed in with some of the most heightened stressful times as well. Like when our oldest dropped off the weight chart entirely and we fought our gastrointestinal specialist on finding a different solution to weight gain than poking a hole in his stomach. The threat was that they would report us to CPS if we didn't comply with the only option the specialist suggested, even though we thought there was a less invasive alternative. They finally recommended a nutritionist instead, which helped get our boy back on the charts.

We had never experienced stress like this before, but even so, I handled it with relative ease.

Fast forward a couple babies later and the desire had grown to move back “home” to California. Some loss in the family sparked a renewed desire for our kids to live near their grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins. We loved our families deeply but until then hadn't experienced a strong desire to live nearby.

We made plans and moved quickly because… well, because I don't have much patience when my mind is made up, but beyond that, if we didn't move quick, our preschooler would spend another year making friends at preschool, our roots would deepen even more, and uprooting ourselves would be even more painful. So the time was now.

We sold most of what we owned and moved across the country. Our family was loving and supportive, allowing the 5 of us to stay with them as we looked for a place to live.

We eventually got on our feet, but in the time being, some major shifts had happened in my video production business. I thought I was going to keep my Indiana office open while building a new California office, but the Indiana office quickly went into the red and unfortunately we had to shut it down. Everything now relied on swiftly and successfully starting up well in California. Welcome to the Bay Area.

It's in this season, with a combination of factors and stressors, that performance-based acceptance fired up in me in a big way, and with it came anxiety for the first time in my life (or at least the first time I was aware of it).

Performance-based acceptance lead me out of authenticity and into performing for approval. That meant it was rare for me to be living true to myself, and more common for me to be analyzing situations to figure out how I was supposed to behave. It was subconscious. It was automatic. It was new. Or was it?

I was in the thick of it. Life felt new in a bad way. I felt like I had entirely lost my previous decade of growth. I felt like I had no purpose except to exist and provide for my family. I felt confused and wandering and doubted my everything. I felt, most of all, shame about the totality of my being, and I couldn't even name why.

“I didn't used to be like this” swirled through my mind enough times to seek help.  My counselor helped me recognize what was happening within me and start tracing back the insecurity and anxiety I was feeling to their roots. I'm still unpacking that. 

So how do you keep moving when your internal world comes crashing down? Well, for me, I had to listen a lot. Deep within my soul, if I listened well, I noticed God speaking in ways that I've not often recognized as His/Her/Its voice. If I'm honest, I have to admit that I wish God would just text me. I would totally text back and we would be buds, even if God occasionally said something I didn't want to hear. But unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) that's not how God works.

I think God speaks to us all differently. I've heard people say that God speaks to them through the Bible. Not me. I've heard people say that God speaks to them when they pray. Not me.

I hear God when I simply shut the hell up.

But then I started learning that that was my new way to pray. Rather than trying to lead the charge with words that I say to God, I enter a space ready to listen. And when I do, God speaks. And when I hear, I try to continue the conversation in that direction. 

Sounds crazy right? Yeah, me too. But it's real, and that's saying something for a guy who has as many doubts about God as I do. But the more I listen, the less I doubt, because I hear and even more strangely, I see. I can't explain how God shows me my path forward, but the way forward becomes so vividly lit up that I've recognized this sense as a power beyond myself.

There are two new mantras playing in my head this year after being seared into my soul in a number of ways:

“Open yourself up to that which is beyond you.”

AND:

“God is out ahead of us, preparing the way for us.”

May it be true, and may I take the time to listen for the way.


Practice:

It's hard for me to recommend practices when I haven't mastered steady practice in my own life… but if you were to take a look at my business notebook you would notice that my business notes have been overtaken by personal journaling and messages I've heard from God. If you were to step into my bedroom, you would notice that my poor wife has to put up with a giant whiteboard that I hung on the wall to capture more of the soul messages I'm receiving. I also put my questions on that board, and jot down poems and stories I receive as well. 

So if I were to encourage you to do anything, it would be first, to listen. Listen for longer than you're used to. See how long you can listen for… 

My second recommendation would be to write.

It could be a word.

It could be a phrase.

It could be a story.

It could be your future.

It could be confusing.

Who cares. Just write.

One time I booked a conference room at work, closed the door, and wrote down every life event I could remember on a whiteboard. I found moments of my life that needed to be lamented, and I took some time for that. Other times I've hiked to a spot in nature, pulled my journal out and realized I have nothing to write. Then I accidentally listened, and eventually words flowed and new insights poured out. 

I can't explain it, but I know I need to keep listening and writing. Maybe it could help you, too. 


Ben is a husband, dad, and video productionist in the East Bay of San Francisco. When he's not losing wrestling matches at home with his 6, 4, and 2 year olds, Ben creates videos that help people #thinkfeelactnotice. In high-school Ben had a 32 inch vertical leap; now he struggles to roll out of bed. 

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Receiving the Gift of Sabbath by A. J. Swoboda

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Receiving the Gift of Sabbath by A. J. Swoboda

This guest post is part of the Good Ways blog series, a collection of stories and practices for finding God in hardship.


Nearly ten years ago, as a college pastor, I toiled nearly eighty hours a week doing the “work of the Lord.” Every crisis was my crisis. Every complaint my problem. Everything and everyone came to me. No boundaries. No rhythms. No intention. No rest. I knew there was a problem when I started hoping I would burn out. Burn out offered a way out to all the insanity. Though I had never thought it possible, I was, in Paul’s words, beginning to “weary in doing good” (Gal. 6:9). I constantly got sick, my marriage was struggling, and my ministry became misery as I went frantically from crisis to crisis. 

Flannery O’Connor has this little throwaway line where she speaks of a priest who is “unimaginative and overworked.”* That was me. There was only one problem: the ministry was thriving. People were getting baptized. Students were repenting. The group was growing. It all came to a head one Saturday morning. After an eighty-hour workweek, I scheduled an appointment with a student in our college ministry for 10am that Saturday. Having not slept well for over a month, I missed my appointment, not even hearing the sound of my alarm. I woke up to a voicemail on my phone:

“How could you miss this appointment? Pastors shouldn’t miss appointments. You have failed me.”

I had become a need filler—a Christian handyman, available to everyone and everything but the Lord my God. Standing there, I nearly broke my flip phone over my knee and threw it against the wall. I had been working tirelessly only to let one more person down. I couldn’t go on like I had been. By the sovereign grace of God, I had been reading a book by pastor and theologian Eugene Peterson. In the book, I discovered something I had completely ignored in ten years of Bible reading—this thing called the Sabbath. Peterson discussed how one day a week he would say no to ministry demands, and go on hikes, eat good food, read poetry, and meet with God. I was intrigued. Was this not a waste of time? Was he not wasting his time on selfish endeavors? Then it clicked.

Up until this time, I had thought Sabbath-keeping was selfish. And I thought that if I did it was a sign of weakness. Then, I had the epiphany of a lifetime: in helping everyone else, I had forgotten myself. I had become the preacher of the gospel who needed the gospel himself. Or, worse yet, I subconsciously thought God wanted me to forget about myself so I could serve others. But that is not the gospel. Jesus loves me too. I could love others only to the extent that I could recognize God’s love for me. I could only see to the needs of my community to the extent to which I admitted my own needs. I could only care for God’s people to the extent that I would allow Him to care for me. In forgetting all this, I had neglected to care for the body God had given me, the spirit He breathed into me, this soul which He molded with His own hand. 

Wisdom prevailed; I admitted my limits. It was one of the first “not goods” in my life where I recognized I had a deep, human, God-created need. In living for everyone else, I had been trying to be omnipotent and omnipresent; God had never intended me to be either. Jesus himself went into the mountains and prayed to the point that even his disciples could not find him. Jesus ate. Jesus drank. Jesus slept. He took care of himself. And never once was Jesus hurried from place to place, controlled by a busy schedule. Jesus lived a rhythm completely different than anyone around him. The rhythm of his life was, in itself, a prophetic act against the rhythms of the world. 

I became a workaholic chiefly because I hadn’t allowed the grace of Jesus to reside in the depths of the caverns of my soul. As I read Peterson, one question came back to me over and over again: How can I preach salvation by grace when my life is built on an altar of workaholism?** Sabbath is God’s eternal way of helping us worship our good God, not to worship the good work he has given us to do.

Sabbath protects us from what Hilary of Poitiers called irreligious solicitudo pro Deo—”a blasphemous anxiety to do God’s work for him.”*** Thus the Sabbath dissipates our desire to take ourselves too seriously by rightly taking God seriously in worship. Sabbath is that day we are reminded that we are full of God’s Spirit, not full of ourselves.

My family started to practice the Sabbath. In the years since taking this first step, my family and I have become avid, albeit imperfect, Sabbath-keepers. One day a week, my family turns all the screens off, lights some candles, prays, and invites the God of Sabbath to bring us rest. This practice, which we do far from perfectly, has saved my marriage, my ministry, my faith, and I might even say, my life.

Once you get a taste of Sabbath, there is no going back.


* Quoted in Flannery O’Connor, Flannery O’Connor: Spiritual Writings, ed. Robert Ellsberg (United States: Orbis Books, 2003). 86.

** This is a question Eugene Peterson asks.

*** As defined in Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, 109. I appreciate the words of Walter Brueggemann who connects God’s Sabbath with his own confidence: “The celebration of a day of rest was, then, the announcement of trust in this God who is confident enough to rest. It was then and is now an assertion that life does not depend upon our feverish activity of self-security, but that there can be a pause in which life is given to us simply as a gift.” Walter Brueggemann, Genesis: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, (Louisville, KY: WJK Press, 2010), 35.


Dr. A. J. Swoboda is a professor, author, and pastor of Theophilus in urban Portland, Oregon. He teaches theology, biblical studies, and Christian history at Portland and Fuller Seminaries, including a number of other universities and Bible colleges. He is the lead mentor of a Doctor of Ministry program on the Holy Spirit and Leadership at Fuller Seminary. He is the director of Blessed Earth Northwest, a center that helps think creatively and strategically around creation care issues in the Pacific Northwest. He also serves as director of the Seminary Stewardship Alliance—a consortium of Christian higher-ed schools that are thinking strategically about Christian training in creation care. A.J. is the author of The Dusty Ones (Baker), Tongues and Trees: Toward a Pentecostal Ecological Theology (JPTSup, Deo), and Introducing Evangelical Ecotheology (Baker Academic). You can find his website and blog at www.ajswoboda.com, or follow him on Twitter @mrajswoboda.

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Persevere with Kindness by Maya Smith

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Persevere with Kindness by Maya Smith

This guest post is part of the Good Ways blog series, a collection of stories and practices for finding God in hardship.


My mother loves to tell the story about a four year old Maya, riding a bus in Bucharest, Romania and loudly giving her opinion about the other riders on the bus. Romanian was my first language and my parents always told me that if I had something I didn’t want anyone else to hear, I would say it in Romanian. No one in Maplewood, NJ spoke Romanian so I was in the clear. At four years old, it was impossible to comprehend that there was a whole country full of people who spoke my secret language. As I remarked on how large the woman squeezing into the seat next to me was, my mother turned beet red and pulled me from the bus at the next stop. My parents immigrated from Romania several years before I was born and now here I was, embarrassing them, back in their homeland. I’ve only been to Romania once.

I grew up in suburban New Jersey and their story became romanticized and remains one of the most overused and hopefully, still powerful stories that I tell today. My parents became successful in their adopted country, they built a family and secured their version of the American dream and positioned my brother and I to do the same.

My secret language and my parents' story have shaped my life in many ways. I ask accented taxi drivers where they are from and ask about their family history, I interject in every Romanian conversation I hear anywhere in the world, I learned different languages, I traveled the world and my children will learn Romanian; right now they think the Romanian phrase “te poop” (I kiss you) is hilarious. I am the person I am today because of my parents. I have everything that I have because of them, and the person they made me into.

I attended a dinner in December with some executives from Silicon Valley and a family that had just arrived from Afghanistan. The goal of the dinner was to encourage cross-cultural understanding and connect the refugee family with resources and friendships in their new community. In this beautiful home in San Francisco, I sat across from the father, as he bounced his not yet one year old daughter on his lap. One well intended tech executive shouted a question across the table, in the “if you speak louder, they’ll understand” voice that I had grown accustomed to as the daughter of immigrants. He asked the father, “What’s your favorite part of America so far?” The father, a translator for the United States Army in Kabul, answered in near-perfect English, “I don’t have a favorite part yet, but I hope that one day my kids do.”

For the first time, I saw my parents sitting across the table from me. It wasn’t the polished, successful, American version that they had worked hard to become, it was their faces in those first months in New York City. Uncertain of their choice, uncomfortable in a world of new customs and strange people, unsure of how they’ll be able to pay rent but willing to do anything and everything to take care of their families. I saw my Dad clinging to his own daughter, who embodied his hopes for the future in this new country.

I composed myself and looked at the father and said to him; “If you think about it, in 32 years, your daughter will be my age. She’ll be – like I am – the daughter of two brave parents who did everything they could and things that they were certain they couldn’t do, for her future. In 32 years, and hopefully sooner, she’ll thank you and she’ll be so proud and grateful. It will be hard, I can’t imagine how hard it will be, but there will be kind people who help you and you’ll tell her about them and she’ll be kinder, braver, stronger and more compassionate because of you.” He translated to his wife and then turned to me and said, “You answered her biggest question about America.”

I’ve tried to write this blog three times already today. I’ve cancelled a call and ignored too many emails. Finally, as I get it right and finish this blog in Starbucks with 13 minutes before my next conference call on a hectic day, in another hectic week of a hectic life, I remember this story and take a moment to slow down and feel grateful, grounded and hopeful. I was asked to write this blog about my practice of perseverance and it is simple; when you are moving yourself forward, make sure you bring someone else with you. On the days when you can’t move yourself forward, move someone else.


Maya Enista Smith obsessed with sushi, coffee and thank you cards. She is proud mom to Hunter and Logan and happily married to Dave. Maya has the pleasure of serving as the Executive Director of Born This Way Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to building a kinder and braver world.

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Running into Prayer by Caitlyn Littrell

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Running into Prayer by Caitlyn Littrell

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This guest post is part of the Good Ways blog series, a collection of stories and practices for finding God in hardship.


In the spring of 2012, I got very confused about prayer. I had been praying my whole life up until that point—beginning with prayers at meals and before bed in my childhood, more conversational prayers that often steered toward a litany of requests in my teens, and moving into prayers of gratitude and confession influenced by my what I learned at my Quaker university. Through the progression and growth of my prayer life, a few beliefs held true: I knew God heard me, I knew he cared about me, and I knew my prayers mattered. 

But in 2012, a lot of my prayers went unanswered. And they were the most desperate prayers I had ever prayed. 

My sweet mama and best friend had been battling breast cancer for eight years. Myself and literally thousands of other faithful souls had been praying for her every step of the way. We had seen tangible, goose-bump-inspiring answers to hundreds of our prayers through those years. But by March, 2012, I could see that she was not going to win this battle against cancer here on earth. And I started being shy and unsure in my prayers.

Then in June, I found a lump in my breast. I was twenty-eight years old with three boys, my youngest only six-months and still nursing. Mama’s health was rapidly failing, and I couldn’t let my mind wonder what this lump could mean, so my husband and I prayed for a quick resolution. 

On July 26th, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. We prayed it would be contained in my breasts, and I had an emergency double mastectomy.

On August 2nd, we found out that it had already spread to my lymph nodes, and I would need six months of chemo therapy. We prayed that the scans would show it hadn’t spread anywhere else and that my mama’s new treatment would be the miracle we had still been stubbornly praying for.

On August 18th, my sweet mama died while I held her hand. I didn’t know what to pray.

On August 19th, we found out the cancer had spread to my liver; I was a stage IV metastatic breast cancer patient. Liver surgery, radiation, and several other surgeries along with the chemo were my best hope. Technically my cancer was terminal, but my doctor had hope this treatment plan could work. My prayers became something like, “I love you. I know you are good. Hold me close.” But every time I tried to form a hope or a request, my words faltered and nothing came. I still believed that God heard me and that he cared for me, but I couldn’t find my belief that my prayers mattered. 

Three months into treatment, I went in for a scan to show if the treatment was working. I had the scan on a Friday, and I knew I would hear the results by that Monday. On Sunday night, I couldn’t hold still. Although weakened by chemo, I put on my dusty running shoes and set out into the cold fall night for a run of desperation that would change my prayer life forever. 

My run that night was supernatural. Running faster than even on my healthiest day, I practically flew across the wet pavement into the sunset landscape.  I couldn’t breathe, because I was sobbing. I couldn’t fill my lungs, yet my feet moved forward faster and faster. I wasn’t praying or thinking, but I could feel God. I saw the vibrant colors in the sunset. The hard ground under my feet gave me confidence in my presence in this moment. I could smell the crispy fall air heavy with coming rain. My tears found my lips, and their salty trail connected me to myself. I was here, seeing and feeling all of this with God. I was not running in my own strength. I was held and carried by God who heard what I was not able to say.

I finally stopped, suddenly, and my breath came back. My sobs slowed. My thoughts caught up to me, and I said out loud into the night the words I had been scared to admit: “What if you hear me and you love me, but my prayers don’t matter? What does it mean to want your will more than my own like Jesus did in Gethsemane? If I submit to that idea, can I still pray that my scans show the treatment is working? Or are my prayers supposed to stick to the I-love-yous and your-will-not-mines? I want to live, Lord. I want to raise these boys you gave me and love this husband for many more years. Can I ask you for that?”

On my walk home, I recognized a shift in my whole body and soul. Although embarrassed for admitting to God what I wanted, I also knew that relationship building had happened between the God of the universe and me in that crazy run. 

I wrote about my run on my blog. My mentor and writing hero from George Fox, Melanie Mock, commented: “That run was your prayer, Caitlyn.” Reading those words released me into a new and liberating way of talking to my Savior. Their truth still takes my breath away.

On Monday morning, I got the call I had asked God for: my treatment was working! Now, five years later, I do monthly treatments I will continue for the rest of my life that have been keeping the cancer at bay. My prayers today are full of gratitude.

My life is my prayer and my way to talk to God. Since being diagnosed, I have become so aware of how integrated I am with my body and soul all enmeshed and entwined. So God often communicates to me through what is happening in my body. One of my treatments has given me advanced osteoporosis, and movement had been painful for four years. But recently, I was running and noticing that my bones weren’t hurting anymore. My bone treatment was working! Yet I sensed God wanted to show me more than just a reason to be immensely grateful, so I thought about how different it felt to run with strong bones again and listened to what that meant. God showed me that my bones are the perfect example of how he works in me. What was broken and fragile is now strong and capable. What hurt before feels like a solid foundation enabling me to move forward and do more. Yet it took time. I ended this run convicted I need to let pain and healing take the time they need. Then I must recognize and praise Jesus when healing and restoration have taken place. I hadn’t said any official sounding prayers, but God and I had communicated just the same. 

Now I know these things to be true about prayer: God hears me, God cares about me, and my prayers do matter. I also know that my prayers extend beyond my words. They happen as my lips gratefully touch my sweet boys’ heads at night, when I stretch my body and feel my scars pull, and when I close my eyes in trust at night. 


Practice: God speaks to us and invites us to speak back in ways that don’t necessarily fit into our typical prayer practices. When I’m not sure what to pray, I ask myself these questions no matter what I’m doing: What does this feel like? Taste like? Look like? Sound like? Smell like? Even washing the dishes turns into a prayerful experience when I do this faithfully. Finally, reflect on what the answers to those questions reveal about the God who knit you together.


Caitlyn lives in the East Bay with her wonderful husband, three sons, one of her two amazing brothers, and her Golden Retriever, Harper (who is the only other girl in the house!). She is the Pastor of Kids and Family Formation at her church and loves to read, do anything outside, and watch movies with her family and friends. Connect with Caitlyn at everydayglimpses.com. "I love to help women who find themselves dealing with cancer. Please feel free to email if you need someone who has been walking this path for five years. :-)"

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Unpathed by Corbitt Howard

This guest post is part of the Good Ways blog series, a collection of stories and practices for finding God in hardship.


It’s embarrassing that an errant relationship has come to define so much about me, but here we are... 

My life can be bifurcated into two distinct periods. Before The Person and After The Person. 

Before, everything unfolded like a novel, just the right amount of intrigue and drama, just the right amount of resolve, just the right amount of seeing the path laid out ahead of me before moving on to the next chapter. That included this Person. We met and fell in love, just like the book said we would, it was destiny, it was complicated, it was tough, but see: just the right amount of drama, and eventually it was all going to have just the right amount of resolve and we were going to very clearly see just the right amount of the path ahead of us then move on in to the next chapter. Until we didn’t. Until she left. Following a year long bloody and botched schism, all of a sudden there were no more pages in the book. 

I became rudderless. In a tailspin that had the unintended consequence of knocking me off all of the paths I was following, not just with this Person, but my Life path, Career path, Home path. Community path. There were no more constants. 

The beginning of the After The Person epoch shall be known as The Lost Time. The Lost Time found me in a car, driving, going anywhere, Austin for a few months, Los Angeles for a few months, Florida, Maryland, I was giving it all a try. But also I wasn’t. I wanted the work to be done for me. I wanted to land somewhere, and this magical place comes prepackaged with lots of friends and purpose and no more waking up in the middle of the night gnashing my teeth while indignantly talking out loud to myself about how this Person could abandon me.

And then there's the God path. God WAS there, silently tagging along. If you’ve ever played Mario Kart you know there's a little creature that follows you around floating in a cloud with a fishing rod, and whenever you wreck your kart so horribly as to be beyond the point of getting back on the road yourself, this creature floats over, picks you up by the fishing rod and rights you on the track to drive another day.

This was how God felt. I knew He was there, I knew He would pick me up if it got so bad, but until then I would ignore Him. 

Eventually (fortunately) there’s no more money and the charity of your friends has worn thin, and you realize nothing but time can make the pain go away. So you stop. I ended up back in Los Angeles, a city that is so challenging in every conceivable way, you don't have time to worry about your Person. But I had a new problem. I bailed on my path. I was now in a thick rain forest of unknowability, hacking away at it with a machete. Goodbye sidewalk.

Cutting to the one thousand word chase, my particular rain forest was about 7 years thick with little clearings and temporarily stimulating ancient ruins scattered throughout. 

And the rain forest is scary. You've lost your place. Your purpose. Your contribution. For me, and my tenants of Christian spirituality, that's a bad feeling, being in service of nothing. I'm the wayward Dad that swears every weekend is the weekend I'm finally going to take my little girl to the carnival, then the carnival leaves town, and for some reason I keep swearing I'm going to take her anyway -- it's a mess. 

Each year that passes, each day really, is another day you aren’t going to get back. That’s it. It's gone (unless, I guess, reincarnation is a real thing, but even then...). The good thing about being purposeless is you can never forget it. Yes time slips away (especially in California...sure, sure, no seasons, all that sunshine, I get it, but to me its like one long Groundhog Day) yet that little tug of emptiness is always there, nagging at you. 

Eventually the nagging turns into panic and the panic presents you with an ultimatum, because no matter your stamina you cannot panic forever. You must make a choice. Jump or Jump. You’re standing over the abyss on one side and...a different abyss on the other. 

You tell your panic to shut up, you need to think. You sit and you imagine the rest of your life unfolding, but not in the path-like way from back when you were stupid and happy -- a moving airport walkway giving you a tour through your life. This is an emotional unfolding, you picture a series of feelings you’d like to have, and wild images in your mind that you’d like to breathe into reality. And this is horrifying because there is no carrot on a string this time, it’s you, and you're in control.  

Then you remember, silly you, you're out here living like you don't have a cloud floating creature with a fishing line that catches you EVERY single time. No matter how far behind in the race you are. This guy is not some hitch-hiker that you allow to float around your go-kart race. He's your partner, and oddly, everyone else's partner as well. With no interest in winning or losing, so much as keeping you in the race.

Alright, snap out of your Mario Kart fantasy you weirdo, you're standing over an abyss with some choices to make! 

.....

At the end of the course of your life, when your consciousness is fused with the higher power, I think the thing you're going to want to bring with you from this finite part here on earth is not, did you follow the path that was laid out in front of you, but did you dig down deep inside yourself, really reach into the depths, and pull up all of you into your life, spilling it out onto the grounds and to your friends and to people you’ve never met, putting into the world your little contribution of truth. 

So you think about that and you jump. And I jump. And as I’m falling, as I'm currently falling typing this, it feels a lot like flying. And maybe, unlike the path mentality, this life isn't leading to one nice and tidy destination, but a wide-open expanse that has to be viewed from above to be made sense of.

And how small-minded it is to think of God as a creature in a game who only operates with you after you are ruined. God is that too, of course, but also the abyss and the panic and the air around me as I’m falling/flying and the choices, and the purposelessness. When you’re following the path, life is simple and things work. But when you break out of the line there's a terrifying wisdom, a new spectrum of color, a truer self, a purpose and a divinity you could not know otherwise. 


PRACTICE:

  • Give yourself permission to freefall. 
  • Feel the wind of uncertainty whipping past your face. 
  • Wig out. And doubt and be angry.
  • Don’t be afraid, God has that fishing rod at the ready. 
  • Allow the crazy journey to work its magic. It will change your life in ways and give you a perspective that maybe at first you didn't know you wanted but eventually you'll never again wish for the era of stupid and happy.
  • You will want to minimize the negative space created by Lost Time. This is tricky, because feeling too guilty about the Lost Time can fire up a vicious cycle of more Lost Time, but feeling too good about the Lost Time can kill the momentum that’s going to lead you to your colorful new outlook. The quick answer is do something, anything. It all counts. Everything is a poem if you consider everything a poem.
  • When in doubt, remember, no matter what, you have a beautiful circulatory system.

Corbitt Howard is the creator of Campfireball, an immersive storytelling experience. Recently he mailed a single potato chip. He is still waiting to hear if it arrived unbroken. Follow along @campfireballer on Instagram.

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Finding Truth During Grief by Katie Novak

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Finding Truth During Grief by Katie Novak

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This guest post is part of the Good Ways blog series, a collection of stories and practices for finding God in hardship.


On a Friday morning, at 23 weeks pregnant with our fourth child, I went to my OB for a routine check-up. She couldn’t find the baby’s heartbeat. The ultrasound confirmed that our baby had died sometime in the previous couple of weeks.

My husband hurried to the hospital, and we endured the long and devastating next 24 hours together. Having given birth to three healthy babies in the last six years, the labor and delivery room was familiar, but everything happening was all wrong. All our emotions were inverted.  Instead of waiting with anticipation to meet our new baby, we were waiting with grief to deliver the child we would never know this side of heaven. I had never felt so heartbroken.

Early Saturday morning, we held our stillborn daughter for a short time and said a few words in prayer. A song by Sandra McCracken, “We Will Feast in the House of Zion,” came to my mind. It was one that had been meaningful to good friends of ours after they had endured a similar loss. 

The image of Zion in the Old Testament seems to describe a reality where life is spent with God forever. In the song, Sandra points to a time when “we will sing with our hearts restored.” As we cried, we listened to her earnest declaration of hope in God and her encouragement, “In the dark of night, before the dawn/my soul be not afraid.” I think that in the midst of such intense grief, I was desperate to hold on to the fact that one day we would be able to sing of the great things God has done in making all things new—even this child’s life. We named our baby Zion.

One of the dominant thoughts I had as I returned home and waded into my grief was that I wanted to “grieve well.”  I wanted to do it “right.”  People told me that there was not a right way to grieve. And although there was some comfort in that, it conflicted with my innate desire to learn the correct, or best, way to do something and then follow a plan to enact that best way. The problem was that this was my first experience with this kind of grief, and I didn’t know how to do it or what kind of plan to make. We had recently moved to a new home, in a new community, and were attending a new church—new territory all around. I did not know what I needed.  

In addition, I think that during times of grief, we become extra sensitive to, well, pretty much everything. Every regular comment or experience, from people who knew of our loss and from those who knew nothing of it, was filtered through my lens of grief. Something even as simple as hearing the upbeat Raffi song “Everything Grows” come on for the kids in the car made me burst into tears. “No, not everything grows,” I thought. “The baby that was in my womb stopped growing and died.”

We did not know why our baby had stopped growing, why her heart had stopped beating. The doctor assured me that it was not anything I could have prevented. I could accept not knowing; after all, tragedies happen every day with no apparent reason except that we exist in a fallen world, not the Garden of Eden in which we were intended to live. But as I stood in the unknown, I wanted to find something that I did know.

I wanted to speak rightly of God; however, during my grief, I found it was difficult to read certain verses in the Bible, and difficult to say words to prayers and hymns that used to be comforting and familiar. One such hymn for me was a childhood favorite: “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” I chided myself for being so self-focused, but all I could think about was how Zion’s death was not a sign of God’s faithfulness.

Yet, here’s the thing: I knew Zion’s death did not change the fact the God is faithful.  We proclaim God’s faithfulness not because all is right with the world, but because it is true. It is what scripture tells us (Lam. 3:22-23). About a week after I delivered Zion, my dear friend Jenny texted me that she was praying for me with the line, “Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,” also from the hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” These were the new words I clung to while listening to this song. I could not sing the line, “Great is Thy Faithfulness” without sobbing, but I held out hope that someday I would. For right now, I sang, “Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow” with all my heart. This line resonated truth for me. God was continuing to provide strength for one day at a time, and glimpses of a better tomorrow. I did not know why Zion died, but I did know God was near to me in my grief (Ps. 34:18) and that was surely a sign of God’s faithfulness. I thought back to the song we played as we held Zion’s lifeless body, and it reminded me of some more things that I knew to be true. There will be a day when, as Sandra sings in the chorus, “We will feast and weep no more.” In the book of Revelation we read John’s vision of a new heaven and a new earth when God “will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:4). This was a truth about the future to which I could hold.

And so I stumbled into a practice that helped me mourn and look forward at the same time: listening to music; music that reminded me of what I believed about God and held true to my current experience at the same time. When I started to get swallowed in all the unknowns, I needed to surround myself with words that I did know to be true. So, I gave my husband a few ideas—songs that had words and phrases that I could embrace because they were true but not in opposition to my very tender, broken heart—and he made a play list for me to listen to during my days at home with our three young boys. Many mornings it felt like a battle not to relive the trauma of our heartbreaking weekend, and the curated songs in the background helped me fight that battle, as I scrambled eggs, changed diapers, and folded laundry. It certainly wasn’t a complete plan for journeying through the grief, but choosing to turn on songs of hope and love helped me put one foot in front of the other, one day at a time. 


Invitation to Practice

The Question: How do we listen for and hold on to truth from Scripture during times of grief, confusion, or doubt?

The Longing: To acknowledge real emotion, particularly of sorrow, and to hold it hand in hand with good biblical theology of God’s character.

The Plan: Make a playlist of songs that speak to the season and emotions you are experiencing.  Or, better yet, ask someone who loves you to make the list for you—a spouse or a close friend. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you and choose songs carefully; find music and lyrics that are honest to where you are.  Don’t rush to make a play list that works as a “pep talk,” pulling you towards feelings that don’t accurately portray or acknowledge where you are.  There is no reason to rush a grief process.

What it looks like for me:
For me, the idea of finding and putting together a list of songs was just too overwhelming. (I tend to identify songs by saying, “you know that one song that one group sings with that line about sowing seeds?”)   So, I asked my husband to make a playlist of songs that I could listen to while I was home with our young children. Here are a few songs that spoke to me as I worked to put one foot in front of the other in the days after I delivered our stillborn daughter.

  • “Healing Song” by Bebo Norman (“I don’t know if you can tell, but Love is pushing me along/I’m pressing up against the veil”)
     
  • “I will Praise Him Still” by Fernando Ortega
     
  • “Psalm 126” by Bifrost Arts (“Although we are weeping/Lord help us keep sowing/The Seeds of Your Kingdom/For the day you will reap them…All those who sow weeping/Will go out with songs of joy”)

Katie Novak spent six years teaching and adventuring in the Los Angeles area followed by four years at a slower pace in rural Michigan, where she tried out her new hobbies of sewing and gardening.  Now Katie and her husband Joey, a Presbyterian minister, are back in their hometown of Flint, Michigan, raising three lively boys—there’s rarely a dull moment!

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Practice Makes Present by Paul J. Pastor

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Practice Makes Present by Paul J. Pastor

Why the timeless Christian discipline of listening is timelier than ever.

This guest post is part of the Good Ways blog series, a collection of stories and practices for finding God in hardship.


Heating with a woodstove is a gift from heaven. The crackle and snap of the dry logs, the smell of pine sap and woodsmoke, that radiant, deserted heat—it is wonderful. 

Until you have to do it. 

Downed trees to cut with a never-sharp-enough chainsaw. Rounds, knotted, to split with maul and wedge, all the time thinking just how much time each piece will take to season and how little to burn. Scraped fingers, smashed fingers, filthy fingers, splintered fingers, tired fingers. The constant math of cordage and BTUs as winter creeps up your calendar: I think we have enough wood. But it might be extra cold this year…

The woodshed fills, so does the kindling box. Your kids scurry the autumn woods, gathering up dry twigs to pad out the supply. I could have just called someone and bought some stinking wood, you think every year. But you never do.

But for all the romance of the fireside, and all the work of woodcutting, there is a third thing that the woodstove brings into your house. Rhythm. What most of the developed world does with a thermostat, you do over months and weeks. You eye dead snags in the woods. You find yourself knocking on stranger’s doors, leaving your pickup running, pointing to the tree the arborist just dropped. “You gonna use that?” 

The woodstove brings gifts of inconvenience into your house. And the gifts of inconvenience are not to be despised. 

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Truly being in the place where we are seems to be a dying art.

We are trained from birth in America to value the fast and easy. We have, after all, some kind of collective national destiny we’re supposed to be about (Living, and being Liberated, and frantically Pursuing Happiness). This, as you know already, creates minds warped against the true curves of time. So great is our focus upon our personal futures, that we find ourselves straining like horses bridled to a millstone—always pulling forward, in the same gritty circle. But it is our lives we are grinding away. 

In such a circle, we disdain the past and fear the present. We are never at peace. In the rare moments that we brush something truly larger than ourselves (such as True Love or Cancer), we awake for a moment. We hurriedly take stock of our lives, pledge to never again live “out of touch,” post some Rumi quotes on Instagram, and then, when the feeling wears off, return to the old Stockholm host—the promising bondage, the constant pull, the constant strain, the slow, never-landing leap forward into a future that never lets us land. 

This is all a long way of saying that we all love sitting by the woodstove. But how we hate the slow, everyday hassle of feeding a year-long fire.

This propensity creates A.W. Tozer’s “monstrous heresy” at the center of our modern religion. It is the lie that “noise, size, activity and bluster make a man dear to God.” 

How vicious this lie is! It cuts the good pith out of life and faith. It allows the shell to remain, while our insides drain away, leaving an ever-growing spiritual façade, and an ever-shrinking life to fill it up with. Like Sarah Winchester’s madhouse, we are forced to never stop building. But it is only and always for show; to divert attention from the shivering thing that crouches within. We are afraid to be alone with ourselves. We cannot stop. We must not. Who knows what will find us if we do? Forward. 

And slowly, the stone crushes out the things that call Christ into our lives, that make us wholehearted and pure. The things that make us happy.

The solution to this may be stated without many words. We must practice presence. We must assert our true selves—the selves that Christ and the truest parts of his Church seek to whisper out of us—against the lie of the age. We must gather what powers of attention are left us, and reclaim seconds, minutes, and hours from every day. Out of these pieces of time, true life may be rebuilt.

To be present is, at its root, to be attentive. To truly see, to truly hear. It is not only to listen, but to have the capacity for listening. It is not only to hear, it is to have ears for hearing. Against the lie of the constant future, we stop, we listen for a voice that can only be heard in this moment. And in that irrelevance, we find timeless life (but it is very slow, and not often impressive, and rarely yields quotes to pad the Twitter feed).

Lawrence the Carmelite found this practice in his monastery’s dishwater. So, I hear, does Ann Voskamp. For me, it has been the woodpile. For others it will be a commute, washing out diapers, weeding. Curiously (I do not know what to make of this), it is the chores that do this better than any “quiet time.” The only word for such a crusty, splintered kind of presence is surely “practice.”

Practice does not make perfect. At least not without a lifetime or so. But practice of this kind can make present, and present (fortunately) is the goal. God cannot be known in the past that we disdain. And we will never reach him in the future, no matter how hard we strain forward. We can only know him now, in the ever-present Present. We can only know him in the place where spirit meets life as it is, and (instead of forcing forward) invites God to say hello. 

God, in his own way, answers. 

To me, his voice usually sounds like popping wood and it smells like the dusky smoke of many pines. 

What does it sound like to you?


Practice:

Find some small rebellion against efficiency to insert into your daily schedule. Walk, don’t drive. Write a letter, don’t text. Make the coffee at home, don’t do the espresso drive-thru. 

Allow yourself to be present in the inefficiency. 

Ask God to speak through that time. 

Listen.


Paul J. Pastor is author of The Listening Day: Meditations On the Way (Zeal Books). Find him at www.pauljpastor.com. Twitter: @pauljpastor. Mailing address: P.O. Box 36, Bridal Veil, OR 97010.

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This Is My Body by Mariah Lefeber

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This Is My Body by Mariah Lefeber

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This guest post is part of the Good Ways blog series, a collection of stories and practices for finding God in hardship.


I grew up in Nebraska, the daughter of a Lutheran pastor and a music teacher. When I was a little girl, like many of us, I took the world I grew up in for granted – unaware that my life might be different from anyone else’s. It was only as I got older, and especially after leaving home, I began to appreciate this churched, midwestern world that was my early existence. I also began to examine and understand the emphasis and sacredness on liturgy and ritual that defined my own religious upbringing. 

As I started thinking about writing this post, I realized that my message was set to be released during Holy Week, on Maundy Thursday nonetheless. This felt so fitting, with the Lenten season of the church year overflowing with the sacredness of ritual. I thought about growing up celebrating Palm Sunday with the waving of cool, real palm branches, practicing the Passover Sedar, and my father’s heavy Bible slamming to signify the solemn end of the Good Friday service. And above all, I thought about communion – during Holy Week and every Sunday – with the reminder always echoing in my ears: this is my body, broken for you, do this in remembrance of me.

With the workings of the church woven into my very being, my own journey has also been one of creativity – and specifically – of dance. Pursuing my love for this art form, and in the midst of working towards my undergraduate degree in dance, my father was diagnosed with cancer. Many years later, I still don’t have the words to sufficiently describe the pain of his three year battle, of horrors that a hardly twenty something (let alone anyone) should never have to endure. Even now I struggle to grasp all that cancer stole from me, but because I didn’t know // couldn’t know how to press on without it – all throughout the chemo treatments and the surgeries and the pain pumps – I kept dancing. My own creative practice held and grounded me during that season, as it has in difficult seasons since, in a way that I came to understand only in retrospect.

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Just two months after my father’s funeral, I moved to Chicago to pursue the studies in dance/movement therapy I had deferred a year prior. During this pivotal time, drowning in grief and drinking from the fire hose of graduate coursework, I realized that at some point I was going to have to integrate my journey of faith with my world as a dancer. Unfortunately, the words of John Gordon Davies (1984), rang far too true in my own life: In Western culture, relatedness, whether to God or interhuman, has been conceived and practiced in terms mainly of the spoken word. Acknowledging that we are communicating beings, stress has been laid on verbal communication. From this has stemmed an undervaluation of the bodily aspect of the dialogue.  

The church, while steeped in deeply rich traditions of many kinds, hasn’t always done a great job of reminding us of the holiness of the incarnate experience – whether our own bodily and physical experiences, or God’s desire to enter the incarnate experience through Jesus’ life and death. Jesus reminds us – this is my body, broken for you – do this in remembrance of me. Once I was able to recognize and honor the sacredness of the incarnate experience (even amidst its brokenness and suffering) in my faith, I was able to fully understand how the practice of dance allows me to feel more connected to myself, to the world, and to God.

Much like the church I grew up in, the culture of dance is thick with rituals. A culture that is home to me, I forget at times that my willingness to be barefoot anywhere or my proclivity to hug or touch even strangers makes me a bit of a foreigner in the other worlds I inhabit. Yet the truth is that the marley floors of the dance studios of my life are just as much church to me as the sanctuaries where I’ve received communion. My body laid out in a giant X shape across the cool floor, I’ve surrendered my weight into the ground below me, trusting it will support me and hold me up – again and again. The ritual of dance class, of turning off the racing chatter in my brain in order to let my body take over and just be in the present moment, has reminded me repeatedly of the beauty of the incarnate experience. 

I know that for me, personally, great healing happens when I enter the sacred space of the dance studio. I’ve also learned in my work as a dance/movement therapist about the uniqueness and relative nature of each of our personal journeys. Our embodied experiences and needs are vast and varied. Sometimes we don’t have the luxury to practice that which our body wants or cries out for; even knowing what that might be is in itself a luxury. Yet, a practice that sustains me, and that I hope can do the same for others, has the potential for simplicity. I’ll break it down like this:

  1. Know that your incarnate experience matters. Yes, your thoughts and your mind matter – but equally sacred is your bodily, felt, lived experience. 
  2. Listen to your body. Your body is very wise. Take a minute every day to be still and to listen. Inhale and exhale slowly a few times. What do you notice in your body? When you think back to that meeting at work, that important phone call, or that argument at home – can you remember what you experienced in your body? Where you felt something? What are the messages your body is sending you right now?
  3. Respond to you body. Turn on your favorite song and dance it out. Take a run and pound into the pavement with every ounce of strength you can muster. Lie on the floor in a big X shape or curl up in a ball and let the tears flow as they may. Trust that the ground below is there to hold you up, and that God is too.

The beginning of the Lenten season always brings forth memories of the yearly imposition of ashes – the ritual of my father marking the ashen cross on my forehead and reminding me, you are dust, and to dust you shall return. There is great freedom in recognizing the impermanence of our broken, earthly existences – and great beauty in embracing them in the meantime – the messy, holy, incarnate experience that is being in our bodies for today. May you find the freedom to dance in the interlude.


Mariah LeFeber is a dance/movement therapist and counselor who lives in Portland, Oregon, where she has killer living room dance parties with her husband Paul and their two daughters, Adah and Junia. You can learn more about her at mariahlefeber.com or find her on Instagram @mariahdancing

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