2020: Goals and Goofing Off

I was thinking about the new year and recall recently hearing someone say, instead of resolutions that we often set ourselves up to break, think of the beginning of the year as a time to set one goal. And, while it feels like a blank slate and a good time to start something, I also wondered if we take a moment to pause and renew, would we all be more likely to hold to the new goals we’re trying to form? We go through the holiday season and it’s a blur. How often do we look back and wonder where 30, 60, 90 days or more have gone? We are so busy with the hustle of preparing that starts in October, maybe earlier, that when the new year comes it’s no surprise we’re all feeling ready for a new leaf. But is there room to be more mindful about how we go about all of these new practices? Instead of starting January at the gym doing more than our bodies have in weeks/months/years and going home sore, energy depleted, and looking into a refrigerator stocked in an optimistic moment with all the foods we “should” be eating is it any wonder that by the end of that week or the end of January we already feel we’re failing at what we set out to do? Here’s an idea it’s not too late to start on, the timetable is your own. Let’s bring in this new year with intention and balance.

Happy January, welcome new year, new decade! I’m going to choose my activities and set goals that are achievable, because I don’t need guilt over self-imposed ideas that make me feel a failure. And I’m going to learn to play, alone, with friends, and with my family.  Join me? Here are a few things to get you started but remember this is not an inclusive list, just inspiration:

  • Meal plan and prep on weekends. It sounds simplistic and it is, but this is the way to get the foods I want in the house. This is not the start of a strict diet; this is making healthier choices than I made during the holiday rush.
  • Create set work hours. It’s easy to allow myself to let my work spill into my evenings during times I don’t have plans or distraction, but everyone needs down time to recharge each day. It’s not a luxury, it’s what enhances productivity during the day and if I don’t consciously make this choice, I will let myself stay at my computer longer than I should.
  • Read, listen to audiobooks, listen to podcasts, or watch TV. Getting myself enmeshed in a good book is an escape nearly like a vacation. And for all the bad TV out there, there’s plenty of good to watch as well.
  • Pray or meditate. Quiet time for consideration and reflection is soul enriching and an amazing stress reducer that has been shown many times over to reduce blood pressure and improve brain health.
  • Move my body. This doesn’t mean I have to join a spin class or train for a marathon (though if those things lift you up, wonderful!) this just means a walk with my dog, or yoga at home or in a studio, a bike ride on the greenway. Again, stress reducing, heart and brain healthy, blood pressure reducing, and an aid in depression and anxiety management. 
  • Schedule physicals or check-ups. Annual exams are important to be sure any changes in blood work, blood pressure, vision, mammograms or PSA checks, etc. can be addressed before a possible issue becomes advanced.
  • Call and schedule time for coffee with a friend.  Often, we do not give our friendships the time they need, and we don’t benefit from the recharge that time will give us.  (And moms – I just read today that in order to be the healthiest mom possible you need two girlfriend outings a week.  Two!  So perhaps start with one and work it slowly up to two.)
  • Make an activity list with your family.  Have everyone list what is fun for them.  And then use this to plan your vacations, time together, and year. 

Remember, not every minute of the day is meant to be about productivity.  It’s also meant to include time for relationships, recharging our batteries, learning, and balancing our lives.  So, this year, rather than adding a list of 5 must-do’s to your daily schedule, how about taking care of you – in any of the above ways or another way you might want to embrace and enjoy.  Brene Brown reminds us that “adults goof off”, they play, and defined this as spending time doing things that are not productive but are fun.  Several of the ideas above are not “productive”, but they may be fun for you.  So, my challenge is – go have some fun this year.  Play. Meditate. Spend time with friends.  Read a novel that pulls you in.  After that – perhaps get back to the one or two goals for your year.  But don’t take the “fun” time off your calendar to get the goal met. Instead, balance both in your time.  And have a great 2020! 

Delving Deeper Into My Spirituality and God

Lenten season is upon us once again and as we have begun, I’ve noticed a similar theme crop up in a couple of places and it’s had me thinking, how is my relationship with God at the moment? Am I letting Him in, and growing? Or am I going through my busy life with time only for church on Sunday and prayers for sick ones, people I’m concerned for, guidance for myself? That type of superficial relationship is not what fills me up the best. Am I listening to Him? Are you?

The first quote that resonated with me was posted on social media by a friend:

When I was younger, I thought Lent was about giving up something I liked and that was it.

As I’ve grown older, I pray now, “Jesus, what’s keeping me from you?” Usually, I already know the answer. It’s usually the one thing, action, or thought I don’t want to give up.

But every time I do give something up, or take on something else, allowing and inviting Jesus the time and space to change me, I’ve grown in love and sacrifice. “He loved His own in the world, and He loved them to the end.” -John 13:1

He’s longing to love you this Lent.

He’s longing to lead you deeper this Lent.

He’s longing to call you this Lent.

What’s keeping you from Him?

Her comments really hit home and challenged me to look at my life and how I could improve my relationship with God during this Lenten season. This led me to search a few other books, blogs, and videos highlighting Lent as well as my relationship with God.  I found a wonderful video posted which focused on our relationship and how Lent can re-energize our relationship with God.  You can see it at Lent , but be sure to listen to the entire thing or go to about the last minute and a half.  As I’ve been mulling over these in the last 2 days  another voice popped in from a popular blogger I follow, Emily of Jones Design Company. She writes:

In my lifetime of following Jesus, I can only count a few times when I know I’ve heard God speak to me. There are lots of times when He speaks through scripture, music, dreams, conversations or nature. I adore these special moments of closeness and connection.

This time was different.

It wasn’t a conversation or an affirmation. It wasn’t even in response to something I had been talking with Him about. It was a catch-you-off-guard, clear as day directive.

It’s time to write.

I stopped mid-tread, listened, and agreed.

The first two encounters above made me truly consider what is keeping me from allowing me to be closer to my God.  Not just through my actions showing my belief; but also knowing more about Him/Her and especially trusting and allowing Him to really know me.  Offering up the openness in myself to really allow Him to enrich my life and grow in my spirituality, healing; and, in turn, in my own loving, supporting, and giving to others. When I read Emily’s quote it made me wonder whether I’m spending the time to really listen for God, for His word, or for what I’m to learn through different experiences.  In other words, am I responding to my God when He/She is calling me to love me and be with and in relationship.  The question is really one of whether I am allowing intimacy, or deeper intimacy, with God.

What is intimacy with God?  I believe time spent with and quality of that time together with the other(s) are always signs of intimacy in human relationships.  Is this really any different that with God?  I don’t think so.  And in reviewing what others have said I found these additionally:

  1.  There’s an excellent article titled, “5 Ways to Improve Your Relationship with God“,  and one suggestion is to “Abide and Meditate”.  This means finding some time for silence each day. Set a time in your schedule–while you have your morning coffee, just before you go to sleep, or sometime in between–that you turn off your devices, pick up the word of God and really read it and ponder it. Maybe a verse, maybe a chapter, maybe a book. Meditate on what you’ve read and really internalize the meaning.

2.  One of my favorite authors is Thomas Keating, OCSO, a Franciscan priest who truly           gave us all a gift when he was shared how Centering Prayer can allow us to enter a           more intimate, and deep, relationship with God through Centering Prayer.  As he said:       “As we move from conversation to communion with God’s human and divine nature,         Christ, we experience the divine intimacy. ” (You can read more about this form of             prayer at Centering Prayer).

3.  The closeness so evident that God hears us before we even turn to Him or know                  what we need:  “Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will                  hear” (Isaiah 65:24).

So now I believe some are asking, what does faith have to do with my psychological functioning?  I’m going to take a risk here and say, it has everything to do with our functioning in life emotionally.  When I presented a workshop last year the intersection between the two was clear, it allows us to be whole people.

Spirit and Psych Intersection

If we look at this, we notice that the first item is related to intimacy and authenticity in our relationships.  Thus as we have a lived sense of spirituality, and this means a healthy spiritual practice, then we will experience more intimacy with others as well.  In Lent, a major focus is that of developing our relationships with God and others.  Any tradition can borrow from this, and take on a period of 40 days to focus on our Higher Power, our God. Colleen’s post indicated that her deeper question for this period this year is what is keeping her from accepting God’s love and being more deeply in a relationship with God.  My suggestion for each and every one of you is to ask yourself:

  1.  What is keeping me from a deeper relationship in my spiritual life?  Is it laziness, or is it fear, or is it a lack of awareness of relationship and has become more rote practice?  Or, is it _________________________?  Fill in your own blank.
  2.  What is one step that I can take during this time to grow psychologically and spiritually?  Do I need to spend more time with God in a way that is meaningful to me on a regular basis?  I am committing to go to some Taize prayer services (see Taize Prayer for an idea about these services if you’re interested).  For some this will be through nature.  I loved Episcopal Bishop Kirk Smith’s e-Pistle where he recently wrote about nature and God.  In it he was discussing Richard Rohr’s quote:  “Ever since God created the world, God’s everlasting power and deity–however invisible–have been there for the mind to see in the things God has made” as well as Thomas Acquinas’ quote: “Sacred writings are bound in two volumes–that of creation and that of Holy Scripture.”  So perhaps this can be a way to come closer to your Higher Power, your God, this season.  Or, perhaps it needs to be in centering prayer as I mentioned above.  Or, for does it need to be through gratitude?  This is in part the recognition that your Higher Power is at your side even during the times of difficulty. Whether all is well in life at present or you have challenges you’re facing, God’s plan is in place. Thus focusing on recalling the moments where you have been blessed and offer up thanks.  Again, fill in your own blank here:  The step I will take this Lent to inspire my relationship with God is to ____________________________________.
  3. Am I an active participant in my relationship to God or within my spiritual walk?  Many have written about this and how to be more active.  Perhaps read “A Praying Life” by Paul Miller that focuses on how to live in this busy world we have and yet still stay connected with God.  Or, perhaps taking the 7 steps each day that Joyce Rupp talks about, see 7 Steps of Morning .  Maybe it will be watching movies that lead you to deeper awareness of how to be more connected spiritually, like Walking the Camino or The Shack.  Or perhaps looking to music to inspire your spiritual participation with God.  Never tried listening to chants?  Or what about Tibetan bowls?  Or perhaps gospel music is more your speed, but with an Elvis twist:  Lead Me Guide Me  For me, a beautiful classic piece can do it, as can Every Grain of Sand by Bob Dylan and sung by Emmylou Harris at  Every Grain of Sand .Get creative – how can you experience, try new activities to express your feelings or thoughts in relationship with God or in a spiritual manner.  So, answer this question:  I will try a new spiritual practice to become more aware of my participation in relationship to God by ____________________________.

You now have three steps you can take this Lent.  Are you going to use this Lenten season as I am, to delve deeper into your relationship with God? Some focused effort in these coming weeks may really deepen your faith and bring you greater peace. Will you join me?

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Freedom Within

The 4th of July always brings back warm memories for me. Childhood memories of family, neighbors, being in the Elmhurst 4th of July parade, a huge neighborhood picnic, mama’s potato salad, Mrs. Grosser’s Rice Krispies chicken, watermelon, and a day that ended in a trek by all of the neighborhood to a park for fireworks. According to the Elmhurst History Museum, fireworks commenced at one of several parks during this time period, one of which was Elridge Park.   Elmhurst was my home town, one in which family, friends, and neighbors counted.  Where one felt safe, and where life was measured by the seasons passing from the 4th of July picnic, to fall school and the smell of tar on the road, to winter snow storms, to spring flowers and roller skating.

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Swimming Pool where I learned to swim in the early 1960’s

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Elmhurst 4th of July Parade circa 1960’s

But the 4th of July meant that we were celebrating freedom, something that is more sought after today, and less taken for granted than it seemed to be back in the mid-1960’s. This 4th of July I want to remind you that freedom is at least as much how we own things internally as how life occurs around us.  Too many are feeling less free in this country, and feeling very much compromised, reduced, limited, and forsaken.  I am not going to address any of the politics on either side of this, that’s for other places and times.  But I do want to address how to own one’s independence of spirit.

This automatically takes me to a famous psychiatrist/neurologist named Viktor Frankl who died in Vienna in 1997 but survived four concentration camps in the 1940’s including Auschwitz.  He was a man who knew no freedom for 3 years, and yet in that time he learned mental freedom, psychological freedom, and spiritual freedom.  He developed through these experiences and times a new form of therapy he called logotherapy or existential therapy.  He believed that not only can we survive extreme times, but we do so through the spiritual self that cannot be reduced by circumstances.  I don’t know about you, but I have struggled with this thought at times; and yet, I also know this is how I’ve both enjoyed the wonderful times in Elmhurst, and some extremely difficult times in my life later.  In fact, during high school a dear friend gave me Dr. Frankl’s book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”; and, in reading it I found strength and power to go on.  How?  By finding meaning for my soul and heart, regardless of what might be difficult.  (Note:  I recommend this book highly – see https://amzn.to/2z64yQ8)

At this time when life in our country is rife with difficulty, I believe we must also remember the freedom that Dr. Frankl suggested, particularly when he said, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”  So, this 4th of July, let us celebrate this.  And let us also remind ourselves that what we hold most dear in this country, freedom, is what we are celebrating and what some are fighting to retain or regain.  And when the parades begin in your town, or the picnics begin, and even through the last of the fireworks going off, may we remember we hold the deepest freedom within to choose our attitude.  Only then can we be fully empowered to celebrate freedom.  And only then can we begin to make real choices about freedom and take steps to further defend it.  From the child’s heart of freedom within me from the 1960’s, to the child’s heart in you, Happy 4th of July!

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Thoughts on love.

Recently I had the opportunity to see a part of the country I’d never seen before, the southeast, more specifically, a part of North Carolina. There was a wedding I had great joy in attending, and had a part of my longing for Ireland assuaged…through the friendliness of the people and the beauty in the deep green foliage.  The wedding was so incredibly beautiful in its simplicity that it allowed the love of the couple and the family to truly be hallmark.  So often the love can be secondary to the pomp; although true love shines through if one looks to see it.  As we flew home I had the quiet time to ponder what I had witnessed. In doing so I realized I’d seen love throughout the trip.

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There are likely thousands of definitions of love. Surprisingly, perhaps, I am using a definition by C.S. Lewis for this article: “Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained”.  At weddings we see affection, but when we can really sit back and watch people over time, we are treated, in specially gifted moments, to glimpses of one acting for another’s ultimate good, as Lewis defined love.  That weekend I saw affectionate love, a mother with her near-toddler away from the group so that he could exercise his need to move and explore. A groom gently stroking his bride’s hand during the ceremony. A mother and father watching their daughter lovingly and then searching for reassurance later that she was included and embraced as family and in family when not near them.  All of these both affectionate, for they each were affected by and with the person of their love; but also reflecting Lewis’s definition that love truly seeks and wishes for the other’s overarching best. The health of the child, the peace in the bride, and the true well-being of the daughter.

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Brene Brown, whose work I find challenging in deep ways each time I hear her words or meditate upon a sentence in one of her books, said “Those who have a strong sense of love and belonging have the courage to be imperfect”.  I believe she is speaking of the same love Lewis did. And that weekend I saw the same bride able to be silly and later play spoons with the musicians. Even the musicians, all family and friends, though talented, had safety to be themselves and not have to play or sing perfectly. Such a fun evening!  A friend of the couple willingly made childlike faces with his friends, and walked a little girl around umpteen times to explore and quench her thirst for experience. The mother of the groom stepped back in love and then later reached out to her son in true love for him.  Did each lose something? Yes, but they also gained something bigger in sharing their love. In wanting the best for the other, and in doing so imperfectly and courageously.

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How do you love yourself? On a hike to some waterfalls I enjoyed many, many moments of laughter and sharing with our small group of merry middle-aged folk and one young couple brave enough to venture out with us. (And I’m so glad they did! So much fun to see them together as family and enjoying what for them was one more hike, for me the opportunity to revel in the love they share.)  Yet there was another inner part of me aware of less inner judgment of others, of myself.  Yet I still felt challenged to stop any negative chatter about myself, how I walked, looked, even interacted. At one time in my life I recall this inner chatter wearing me down long before the hike did. But this time I found myself probably at my most self-accepting, able to just pace myself, laugh with others, push on another 20 steps up from Triple Falls, and enjoy the people, the views, the majesty of the mountains and falls, the grandeur of the old and so very tall trees, and the love of the couples surrounding me as each helped the other in some way over the course of a couple of hours.

So this summer I want to challenge each of you to look and really see what is around you. Particularly the love that wants for the well-being of the other, and sometimes in the special presence of affection as well. Do not look only for the love of affection, but also the tougher to find-that love which, over time, allows for courage to be imperfect.  You must, however, start with the courage to be imperfect yourself.  You don’t have to be a concert pianist, in love playing the spoons is quite enough and more beautiful! You don’t have to climb Everest, sometimes hiking in a group of middle-aged or just inexperienced hikers is plenty because it’s time with family. So I want you to grab a pen and paper and fill in the following three blanks for your summer wholeness:

Today I have the courage to acknowledge this piece of imperfection in myself ___________ (name some part that is hard for you to accept) and I promise myself to share it with someone who loves me enough to want for my well-being as far as it can be attained. This person is _____________ .

Today I took the time to appreciate love and beauty around me when I ______________ (where you were or what you were doing).  And I am grateful to have observed love in _____________ (name the situation).

And today through the above I opened myself to take a step beyond fear, into self-love, out to experience love of other, and I showed love and desire for their ultimate well-being to ____________.

Wow! Look at you now! You are closer, even by a bit, to playing the spoons, making a silly face, and being an example of imperfect, courageous, authenticity and love. As John Lennon said: “Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life”. And I believe that is all right back to what C.S. Lewis said happens when we love through a steady wish, a hope, a strongly and long held wish for the ultimate well-being for the other.

Every Voice Deserves to be Heard

 

A couple of weeks ago I wanted to see a movie that would be uplifting. Although Sully might have been inspirational, I needed something that might make me smile or laugh. So my choice was to see one of my favorite actresses, Meryl Streep, in Florence Foster Jenkins. Most of us probably don’t even note the sub-title: “Every Voice Deserves to be Heard”. I fell in love with this story – and it was inspirational and humorous for me that Sunday. I’m going to hit a couple of the main points, and try not to spoil it for those who haven’t ventured out to see it yet.

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I’d not heard of Florence Foster Jenkins previously. Thus at the beginning I was unsure whether to laugh when Ms. Streep sang or not. Ms. Jenkins suffered from syphilis, which she contracted from her first husband, before there was any treatment. For those who don’t know, it causes a progressive deterioration of the central nervous system. This can mean problems with breathing, muscle tone, dementias, and other significant health deterioration. Back when she was treated, it was often with mercury and arsenic, and the side effects of these can be hearing loss. While I didn’t understand the impact of the syphilis when I saw the movie, other than as it was mildly alluded to, later it helped make even more sense of what was occurring. She’d been a beautiful pianist earlier in life and lost that due to an arm injury. To say that she had a few setbacks in life to overcome is an understatement! And yet with courage, and joy, she moved forward.

Ms. Jenkins with the help of her second husband developed not just musical clubs, called tableaux vivants back then, but then also starred in them, designing lavish costumes and singing. All well and good, except that her singing was less than on pitch or rhythmic, and often one had difficulty understanding her. Still, her trusted pianist—a character I find endearing—grew over time to recognize perfection was less important than joy, that a spirit of sharing is more important than a faultless performance, and that commitment to another is more meaningful than an unqualified successful duo. Through the movie we experience Ms. Jenkins’ great love of music and performance, her second husband Bayfield’s great love of her and protection for her, and Mr. Cosmo McMoon’s piano accompaniment with which even greater success was had. The result in her life was shame overcome, love expressed in so many moments, and an important message given to all: Every voice deserves to be heard.

I suppose the other side of the coin is that she might have been narcissistic, and yet her great joy in providing what she heard as beautiful music for others would have been lost. Others would have had less opportunity to experience her love to them through performances, which even those such as Cole Porter and Enrico Caruso attended. And yet, she might have been in on the truth— that her singing was less than perfect. We see this when she mentioned to a friend, “People may say I can’t sing, but no one can ever say I didn’t sing”. Her shame exposed and thus able to live a life of truth and joy.

Ms. Jenkin’s life has given me some courage – to try my hand at some creative endeavors I’ve been considering, like painting. I don’t register thinking, “I can’t paint”, and yet, perhaps I can. Not perfectly, not with exact style and technique, but I can try. And I can experience joy in doing so. And perhaps one other person may enjoy the joy I experience as I share my attempt. One can only hope to have a Bayfield’s love and acceptance, a McMoon’s willingness to work with the imperfection, and courage and joy embraced by Ms. Jenkins. I’ll be that support for you. Go try something new this fall – take a risk. Don’t worry about perfection, technique, knowing how to do it ahead of time, just take the risk and try. Confront your shame and conquer it in this moment. Let me know how it goes for you – and I’ll report back on mine as well!