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Hope for Withering Seasons

I read the book Humble Roots twice last year––once in its entirety; once in slower, more intentional meditations. What rang true again and again was the title of the first chapter, “Withering on the Vine.” I could not think of a more fitting title for my own life last year. I left 2017 feeling like the crispy pine needles littering the floors. I was not unaware either, which may have made it worse. I had spent much of the Autumn doing what felt like twirling the puzzle pieces of our life to fit them better together, to be more efficient with time and energy. I took time to retreat, to pray, to write even. I shuffled the kids through amazing experiences, read books, hired an assistant, checked my children’s progress. I served in our community, connected with friends, made time for wine nights and date nights and morning coffees and travel. I listened to podcasts, to music, to books. I posted to social media, emailed with clients and brand partners, tried to write blog posts (handfuls in drafts) and slowly progressed through a project I’ve envisioned for this space the last two years. Our home life and homeschool was a mess, literally and figuratively. And in the process, I learned it is possible to have all the right puzzle pieces and totally miss their connection. It is possible in all the hustle, to lose purpose, to blur vision. I was withering under it all. I knew I needed to say no but I couldn’t even discern to what any longer. Hadn’t I taught classes and written blog posts and encouraged others on the importance of slower, more intentional living; of family mission; of disciplined, focused living, of less is more, of saying no? The answer is, of course, yes. And perhaps that shame was the most withering of all.

I am not writing these words to pass on a burden or to laden you with heaviness at the onset of a new year. I know, dear reader, you carry enough of your own. What I want to share is this: it’s okay. It’s okay if the world is running vigorous laps around you while you suck wind. It’s ok to be quiet, even when you’re expected to speak. It’s okay to pull back while others move forward, that is, in fact,  how our legs move so we can walk. It’s okay to fail, to smack into disappointment, to miss planned goals––but remember, that is not the end of the story. Courage is found in sweeping the pine needles from the floor, in using their crispy bits as kindling. Withering is not an ending, it is a beginning.

In a culture that rewards charisma, productivity, showmanship, and results––professional or personal withering can feel like failure. And why not? A garden is always more inviting in the Summer than the Winter; no one prefers a picnic beneath bare limbs and crispy leaves. But the work and purpose of the winter garden isn’t to blossom or to be an inviting space. The work of Winter is to kill off pests and disease, to cut back unhealthy limbs, to form a wet blanket for the earth. The work of Winter is to heal and nourish. Withering is not the end; it is the preparation for something new.

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On Removing the Television from Home

We spontaneously removed our family’s television a month ago, wrapped up it up, set it in the hall closet, and rearranged the living room. At once, we noticed a difference in the spirit of the place. Our home is not large. We have a six rooms total, including three bedrooms and three common spaces, all neatly connected to one another so that each room becomes as much a passageway as a stopping point. Our living room is a small, cozy space nestled between our kitchen, dining area, and one of the bedrooms. Naturally, this has caused design challenges, but like every space in our humble home, it is multi-purposed. Somehow our television always seemed awkward in it, a bit like an image with “find the thing that doesn’t belong.”

For most of our marriage, we didn’t have a television. Technically, we owned a small one gifted to us when we married nearly 16 years ago, but early in our marriage, we promptly moved it to an antique armoire tucked in a corner of a bedroom. In our former house, we loved raising our children without the cumbersome tele in the living room. It seemed like an afterthought. We had a weekly snuggle movie night with the kids, where we piled in our bed with the laptop. But as you can imagine, we outgrew that practice. Literally. It became difficult for all of six of us to comfortably fit on our bed any longer, let alone for 90-120 minutes for a film. And so nearly three years ago, we purchased our first television and for the most part enjoyed it.

The progression happens quickly though, doesn’t it? What had begun as a weekly film together quickly evolved when the boys purchased their first gaming system with their lawn work money. Plus, our new television was “smart” and offered us direct streaming to Netflix and Amazon. Although we still greatly limited screen time in our home to about 3 hours a week, the tug-of-war for more began to increase. The boys wanted to play 30 minutes of video games; the girls wanted to watch a show. Mark or I would want to watch something else altogether. In our small living space, tucked at the center of our home, when the television was on, it seemed as though home life abruptly paused for it.

We had experimented with various time blocks for screentime––at the end of the day after all our day’s work had been completed, only on the weekend, and so on. It didn’t matter. The change was subtle, but before long, it seemed the TV was on for one reason or another every evening. Our family read-aloud time diminished. Relational dynamics grew more tenuous, while end of day conversation became more shallow. Video game companies created more solo-play games, which meant rotations stretched longer. More bickering occurred between the kids as they wagered who had more or less screentime. And so on. Less than three years and this thing felt like the object of tug-of-war in our home. It was robbing time for us.

It may be easy for me to oversimplify, to pin every discord on the television. We removed the TV not because it was the sole source of all strife or noise in our home’s rhythm but because the television convoluted it. We needed to simplify the terms of our home life again to properly inventory the dynamics and heart of our home. The TV was simply a variable in the equation of home life. For instance, if at the end of the day, the television is a tool to unwind, what are other ways to decompress? What are the sources of stress that need undoing? Since our children are older and growing increasingly more independent, the removal was a little more layered than simply making our executive decision. It’s led to several more abstract conversations about the gift of time and our intentionality, even in reference to the common phrase “killing time.” We’ve had more conversations about consuming and producing, how does the television fit into those needs in our life? The conversations are the parent-training for adulthood when they are deciding these things for themselves.

I’m not sure how long this will occur. Our children fear it may be indefinitely. Wink. Smile. We have still watched shows or enjoyed family movie nights with the laptop, but we have also enjoyed more family game nights and read aloud, too. We allowed the boys to pull it out of the closet for a little video game time when a friend spent the night recently. This choice isn’t about the hard and fast rules; it’s about knowing our home and the needs within it. With a teenager and two more on the cusp, I am aware of both the brevity of childhood and the imminence of adulthood. These years feel so precious, and I haven’t regretted the removal once yet.

Hurricane Harvey Relief | Where to Donate

Alyssa Schukar for The New York Times

I’m still speechless, even after our own 24″+ rain in 48 hours. Our phones have been constant with the latest developments from friends and family in the Houston and Corpus Christi areas. The images and videos are staggering, and yet Harvey still pours, now into Louisiana. Over 11 trillion gallons of water have been spilled by Harvey and still it rains. Officials are estimating the damage could total near $40 billion. Ugh. It is overwhelming at times to know where to begin helping, and yet people have. Rescue teams and civilians have done so much already, borrowing boats and stepping in to help however. Millions of dollars have already been donated, and daily we watch truck-loads of supplies leave our area for nearby Houston. With over 30,000 people currently displaced from homes, and with so much destroyed infrastructure throughout Texas, these current rescue efforts are only the beginning.

Below, I only listed local organizations invested for the long-term in the relief efforts, with specific funds directed entirely to relief efforts. In general, these are also efforts where I know and trust people involved in the work, or where I know of civic need. I’ve listed needs for everything from blood donations to diapers, to filling wishlists of supplies to opening you homes displaced victims. Of course, money is always needed. You’ll find national and international organizations below that list, ones with dedicated funds to Harvey, and at the bottom of the page, you’ll find businesses currently matching donations up to specific amounts, too. I know the list below is in no way complete, so feel free to add organizations you know and love to the comments for people to find as well.

Erich Schlegel / Getty Images

LOCAL ORGANIZATIONS

I listed below a variety of local organizations who already live and work among flood victims, all which have designated funds for 100% Hurricane relief and ongoing support.

Austin Diaper Bank : Gathering diapers and feminine hygiene products (via Amazon) to drive to Houston for HH victims

Carter Blood Care : Looking for donations to aid in relief of HH victims; search the zipcode to find a clinic near you

Champion Forest Baptist Church Hurricane Relief  Fund: 100% proceeds go to supplies to local relief efforts, including “mud-out help”––clearing mud from homes affected by flooding at no cost to victims

Church of the King Hurricane Relief Fund : 100% proceeds go to relief of flood victims, including creating distribution center for food and clothing

Church Unlimited in Corpus Christi : currently functioning as one of the major distribution centers of the coastal area affected by Hurricane Harvey. 100% of proceeds go to relief efforts.

Ecclesia Houston : all donations go toward supplies, hosting volunteers, and relief efforts. Here is also a supply list they need or an opportunity to open your home to displaced victims of HH.

Food Bank of Corpus Christi : $1 pays for 7 meals; they need resources for their community long term.

GoFundMe has created one page to donate directly to any of the current Hurricane Harvey campaigns, many of who are local Texas businesses and families.

Greater Houston Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund : established by the mayor of Houston to provide tax-deductible relief support to flood victims of Harvey

Harvey’s Heroes via San Antonio Humane Society : an emergency fund created to off-set expenses to shelter pets of evacuees and strays due to HH

Houston Food Bank : Currently closed due to floods, they will be a long-term resource to the community and need resources

Houston Humane Society : a list of immediate needs for animal rescue and care due to HH

Houston SPCA : a list of their immediate needs for animal rescue and care due to HH

Jesus Said Love Hurricane Harvey Relief : all donations will be used to help give homes, supplies, and care to displaced victims of HH, including team members of JSL in the Houston area

JJ Watt Houston Flood Relief Fund : all money toward relief efforts, although it’s unclear exactly how all of this money will be used, but his foundation’s character in the city is reputable.

Love First Disaster Relief (via FBC Houston) : 100% of financial donations go to hurricane relief efforts; also a supply list of needs for donated goods; and a form if you are able to offer a room/housing to those displaced by flooding.

Moms Helping Moms : North Texas group collecting clothing and dry goods to drive to Houston for relief efforts; all financial donations go toward these efforts

Orphan Care Solutions of Texas : Register to host a foster care family affected by the flooding of HH; every financial or supply donations will go to Hope’s Bridge of Montgomery will go specifically to aiding foster children and families who have lost belongings or homes due to HH.

Portlight Inclusive Disaster Strategies : providing relief to people with disabilities in the wake of HH

South Texas Blood and Tissue Center : Looking for blood donors to aid relief of HH

Texas Diaper Bank : a group aiming to get diapers to evacuating families

Trinity Fellowship Direct Harvey Relief Fund : all donations go to their local efforts in helping provide relief; funds not needs will go to the EFCA Hurricane Harvey Response

United Methodist Committee on Relief : on the front lines, providing relief to victims of HH. Donate financially or consider sending a relief kit.

United Way of Greater Houston : 100% of donation goes to relief efforts, and you can choose which part of Houston you want your donation to affect most.

David J. Phillip/AP

INTER/NATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS

American Red Cross : If planning to the Red Cross, check here with Google first who is matching donations up to $1M

Americares : Providing medicine and critical care to relieve victims of HH in Texas and Louisiana

Global Giving Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund : help first responders meet survivors’ immediate needs for food, fuel, clean water, hygiene products, and shelter

Preemptive Love Hurricane Harvey Fund : Home-base to this international relief organization. All donations are here are going toward local relief to those who couldn’t flee due to poverty, also to surrounding towns without resources to cope with the HH aftermath.

Samaritan’s Purse : 100% of donations go toward the team units in Texas providing relief to HH; to sign-up as a volunteer in Texas

Alyssa Schukar for The New York Times

ORGANIZATIONS MATCHING FUNDS

Mark Matson’s Family Foundation (of Matson Money) is matching funds to any charity up to 25K. Email [email protected] to let them know where you donated. You can watch the video explaining here. I like that you get to choose the non-prof donation to double here, which is why I highlighted it first.

Facebook : doubling donations made through Center for Disaster Philanthropy up to $1M (donate button at top of page). “Please know that donations will be distributed to vetted nonprofit organizations with the capacity and capabilities to help Harvey-affected communities recover,” writes the CDP. “The CDP Hurricane Harvey Recovery Fund is focused on medium and long-term rebuilding needs. We know from past disasters, especially through our experiences with hurricanes and floods, full recovery will likely take many years. The CDP Hurricane Harvey Recovery Fund will support recovery needs long after the TV cameras and news teams rollup coverage and turn the eye of the world away from this disaster.”

Google : Matching all funds made through their page up to $1M and will be donated to the American Red Cross via the Network for Good.

Together Rising : Matching all donated funds up $100K according to this IG post; although it’s unclear where donations are going and at what point donations simply go to their organization.

 

Psalm 23

I have been reading the Psalms and Gospels lately, looking both to deepen my roots in the Scriptures and begin my days with quiet attention again. Life in family of six, filled with businesses and homeschooling and puppy training and meal making and community relationships is busy. Add email notifications and social medias and group texting in the mix, and I’m easily sucked into what the writer Linda Stone referred to as “continuous partial attention.” It’s the modern dilemma, one I’ve been mulling over quite a bit this year.

Sometime last week, I read Psalm 23––words so familiar I could recite them, and yet still they smacked fresh in my soul. I read it again and then again, each time drawn to that first line and the semi-colon right in the middle:

The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.

I have a thing for semi-colons. I know it’s a bit ridiculous, but I do. In terms of style, they’re one of the more powerful marks in the English language in my opinion, a sublime connection of two separate and complete thoughts. They’re gentle and mysterious, a fingerprint of the writer’s nuance, a nudge to read again. Here, one thought points to God’s protecting and providing care; the other is a truth about my human condition. God cares for me, for us, with the most perfect care and timing, we lack nothing––a truth even when my circumstance and emotions tell me otherwise.

I remember as an older teen doing a study of shepherds and this Psalm, learning more about the detailed and perilous job of a shepherd, understanding how simple this parallel is for a shepherd-king to write about God our Shepherd-King. He leads us to rest and righteousness. He comforts and restores us. He protects us. He invites us to his table. He invites us into his home to dwell with him. The simplicity is beautiful yet still easy for me to miss in application.

But what if I actually believed this truth in my daily living? What if I let these words on printed page steep more deeply in my day as a wife, a mother, a friend, an educator, a writer, a business owner, a sometimes weary or despairing soul? What if God is my Shepherd even when my bank account is empty or when a friend wrestles with sickness or when my children are hurting or when dreams still linger unrealized? What if He’s true when political systems are broken and confusing, when families tear apart, when fear and hateful thoughts are given more media than hope, when people everywhere are hurting? What if, instead of anxious thoughts or fear or frantic working, my thoughts turned toward that intrinsic connection of two truths: God is my shepherd; I shall not want.  

The last week, I have tried to do something a little different when I have sensed negative emotions or thoughts rise within me for whatever reason. It’s not perfect or a fix-all, but it has been helpful in directing my thoughts toward what is true, even when it doesn’t feel true.

Pause.

Draw in a deep breath.

Exhale slowly.

Pray into Psalm 23, something like this:

God, you are my Shepherd King, my rest and righteousness. I am not afraid of the evil in the world, or even the evil that comes against my home, for you are here right now with me, protecting. I am not afraid of want for I know you will provide. My cup overflows at your table. You are good and merciful, and your goodness and mercy will follow me every day to the end. Let your goodness and mercy rise like a flood in our home, in our neighborhood, in our city, pouring out goodness and mercy generously into all the earth. Amen. 

It’s often been simple and brief, something that has unfolded in the midst of my day, while cleaning out my closet, emailing, running with the dog, or making dinner with the kids. It may sound or come about in a different process for you, as it should, but it’s not about perfection or performance. For me, it’s about finding a sense of rest and hope right in the tension of two thoughts, much like that small semi-colon. Be encouraged.

Self-Discovery and the Enneagram

Have you heard of the Enneagram? It feels like one of those words that popped up once and then again and again, and now it’s everywhere. Then again, it’s quite possibly I’m merely paying attention now. Wink. A dear friend first introduced me to the Enneagram a couple of years ago. I took a test and began reading a bit, but quickly felt overwhelmed by all the information! Centers, wings, stress and growth numbers? I listened to a couple of podcasts, but couldn’t quickly orient myself in the language and nuances. It seemed complex and unapproachable, honestly. So of course, I put it down and went back to my beloved Meyers-Briggs and moved on (INFJ, if you’re curious). That is, until this Spring.

Self-discovery sounds like one of those aloof words used while wafting incense or in sitting in lotus, but I’m learning it’s far more pragmatic and even cyclical in nature for me, a journey that ebbs and flows with the terrain of my days and years. There are periods in life, like this past month, where I feel naturally quieter and more reflective. Although I need quiet reflection daily, these more intense weeks  of reflection seem to beckon a deeper searching out of self, and self in the perspective of God.

I am fascinated by the diversity of human life, how we can experience the same exact moment and yet take away different realities based on our life lenses and temperaments. Perhaps motherhood has made me more acutely aware of the need to understand my own life lens, and also those in my care.  It’s a beautiful journey, even though I will be the first to say the reality of self can be bittersweet, as it unmasks the hidden lies of fear and shame and anger with it. But this is where I have received the deepest healing and self-compassion, too.

The Enneagram, like all temperament sorters, isn’t the answer to everything––BUT it is a beautiful, insightful tool for living, for the creative life, for relationships, for parenting, or business. It’s a tool, a help toward understanding your personal lens. There are nine numbers on the Enneagram, each motivated by a specific need, each attached to a specific gift and root sin. That’s the simple bit, but the nuances occur in how each of us move toward health and unhealth (and how very different each number looks on that spectrum), by the influence of adjacent numbers (wings), and the influence of different numbers we lean into in stress or growth. It sounds strange, yes? Our children are old enough to be a part of this conversation, and it’s been enormously insightful in my parenting, to understand how they are motivated in their own actions. For instance, we have three different numbers across our four children: One (Reformer/Perfectionist–the need to be perfect); Two (Helper–the need to be needed by others); and Seven (Enthusiast –the need to avoid pain). I won’t go into details right now, as I want their journeys and numbers to be theirs, but these insights have been a revelation in my parenting.

My Enneagram number is Three, the Achiever/Performer (the need to succeed), but more than learning about me, I encourage you to learn about you! Especially in parenthood and marriage, this is so helpful to understand. I admit at times it’s been really difficult learning about the “shadow self,” but recognizing the darker side of my number has been the most healing and empowering so far. So if you, possibly like me, have an immediate “ugh” that happens when you begin learning about your number, keep going! Every person (and Enneagram number) has something entirely beautiful to bring to their homes, work places, and communities, and knowing our flaws and working through them brings health and freedom!

I listed some of my favorite resources below, ones I’ve read or listened to on the Enneagram. Cheers to a new month, and to self-discovery and growth, regardless of where in life we are. If you’re familiar with the Enneagram and have any resources to add, please share them in the comments!


TO FIND YOUR ENNEAGRAM NUMBER

The Enneagram Institute RHETI Type Indicator

The Road Back to You Enneagram Inventory

Or simple begin reading the Enneagram Type Descriptions  to see where you identify most.

 

TO READ

The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective by Richard Rohr | Written by a Fansican monk, it can be heady at times, even though it is thorough. I needed full attention for this one, but the information is organized well, even with charts that follow.

The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey of Self-Discovery | This book is such an approachable introduction to the Enneagram, and it’s wonderful as an audiobook, too.

The Enneagram Institute 

 

TO LISTEN

The Liturgist Podcast #37 The Enneagram | This podcast is two hours, although it goes by quickly! Two guests give an overview of each of the numbers with a fun way to listen. This was where I started at guessing where I was on the Enneagram, and then I began reading the books and website below.

The Road Back to You Podcast | Ian and Suzanne (the guests on the podcast above) interview someone(s) each episode, having a lighthearted conversation about specific aspects of the guest’s Enneagram number. It’s encouraging and insightful in a really organic manner.

 

NON-ENNEAGRAM RESOURCES I HAVE LOVED FOR SELF-DISCOVERY

Rising StrongHow the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown

Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living by Shauna Neiquist

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

Water My Soul: Cultivating the Interior Life by Luci Shaw

Connecting and Disconnecting

I have felt disconnected from this space a bit lately, from online life in general really. Perhaps it’s the pace of life the last few months or the thoughts I can’t manage to catch. Quite possibly, it’s the new puppy in our home, now competing for that early hour of morning quiet, or even simpler, the reality of writing online about out life for so long. I realized just last week that I will have been blogging for ten years this coming autumn. TEN YEARS! Although I haven’t always written from such a public platform, I have still been recording some portion of our family’s life and my thoughts on the internet for most of my marriage and mothering years at this point. And something in that reality has caused pause.

Most days, my mind and heart feel brimming with thoughts and ideas; it merely requires tweaking external logistics to make it happen. But the last month or so, I’ve felt a greater disconnect somewhere within me, one that has left me staring at a gaping hole in content here. I have sat down to write so many times, only to stare at the blinking cursor, typing words that felt forced and empty, only to erase them moments later. Delete. Delete. Delete. In March, I lost two large portions of our family trip to a defective CF card, and simultaneously, my phone has been shutting down regularly or draining battery unnecessarily fast, creating a sort of stalemate in spontaneous photos and videos. Sigh.

This isn’t a moment to address the current state of my technology, but only to say I’ve wondered if all of these factors together aren’t trying to tell me something deeper about my own needs right now. Mark and I just celebrated our 16th wedding anniversary. Our youngest, Olive, turned eight, and we are wrapping up our eighth or ninth year of homeschooling––the details of time seem fuzzy. Liam will be fourteen in the fall, and Burke will be thirteen soon after and Blythe not far behind that. The brevity of these years with children at home is visceral.

So yes, my online spaces and social medias have felt sparse and random lately. And some days the empty pages buck against my longing for productivity, my want to actually produce something with my writing hours, other than deleting them. I feel anxious at times that I can’t produce or actualize what seems so easily jotted down on a list or planner. But the internal tension––the push and pull of doing and being, writing and listening––is teaching me something about my boundaries and needs, and more specifically how again to gently receive myself as I am––whether I am performing as well as my inner-critic would like or not.  I have found over the years, it is vain for me to try and produce anything when I am locked up in my head or feeling this deep sense of disconnection. It is best for me not to stare at a screen or a keyboard or even hover my planner and lists, but instead for a time to simply step away and live.

I know I am not alone in this cycle of inward push-pull of self, this tug-of-war of what it means to be connected in the digital age. So for you, here are a few ways I have been finding authentic connection again, and also making peace with my own limitations:

Take a walk. A brief, slow walk around the block is the most instinctual activity when I have writer’s block or am having trouble quieting/hearing my thoughts. I wander and listen. That’s all. This is one of my favorite articles on the connection between writing and walking: one activity orienting us to our environment, the other orienting us to our thought. I realize not everyone is seeking connection for the purpose of writing, but I tend to think it benefits us regardless of intent.

Meditation/Prayer. I’ve mentioned this so many times in this space, but regularly quieting my thoughts with focused meditation on Scripture and prayer is essential for my well-being and sense of deep connection to anything I put my hands to in a day. This doesn’t require long periods of time. I typically find brief quiet moments randomly throughout our days to quiet my thoughts, and pray often. Wink.

Go outside. So many books have been written on our need of nature. But there is something metaphysical nature speaks to us, something tangible for our souls and bodies that we need to orient us through our lives in the digital world. Breathe fresh air. Go for a hike or a day trip to a nearby beach or river. Sprawl a blanket in the lawn, swing in a hammock, stargaze on the rooftop––whatever works best for your temperament and locale.

Unplug. Instead of searching the web for inspiration or looking to see what others are doing, unplug. Pay attention to the people and patterns of your day. Take mental snapshots instead of grabbing your phone or camera, close your eyes, and savor the image for just a moment.

Listen to music. Thoughts like rhythm. They like movement, even melodic movement. Let uplifting music waft in your home as you play with your children or go about the ordinary.

Read. Read anything that might inspire you or grow you, offline. Visit the library or a local bookshop with your kids (or without them, too). If you’re curious, I share four books currently on my nightstand every month with email subscribers. Wink.

Spend time with others outside of your home.  Make a playdate. Meet up with a friend or creative, ideally someone who inspires you. The simple goal for me: get out of your head.

The list is simple, isn’t it? It’s incredible how such simple choices can breed inward connection, and often as a result, a sense of connection for me here, as well.

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Creating Space for Spontaneity

I tend to be a planner, an achiever, a doer. In fact, I could write paragraphs on the benefit of goal-minded living, and the need for patience and steadfastness in parenting, business, or home projects. In each of these endeavors, my days have always unfolded better with a little planning ahead, even with the smallest of lists. These lists help me sift through what is necessary in work and home life, to say no more often, to put my limited energy toward what I value. But how did Mary Oliver phrase it, keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable? Perhaps the greatest lesson in the midst of living-out planned days has been learning to temper them with space––space for spontaneity, for whim, for something unimaginable. . . .

READ MORE AT THE FRESH EXCHANGE

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Nurturing the Whole Self | Retreating

Nurturing the Whole Self | The Practice of Retreating

“a series dedicated to nurturing and nourishing the self from the inside out”

I have always appreciated winter’s wisdom, its encouragement to retreat and to listen. It merely requires a window or a walk outdoors to understand there is purpose for this season of brief light and bare limbs, of quiet fields and still, cold air. Winter gently reminds us of our need to pause and turn inward for a time, our need to listen.

It sounds simple enough, and yet, the truth is retreating from people or activities we love can be difficult in practice. Life doesn’t pause on its own. Children still need to be clothed and fed and nurtured. Bills still need to be paid. Work needs to be finished. Modern culture esteems Spring and Summer type energy, the more productive, vibrant work. We read courage-imparting imperatives at every turn, online and on walls and billboards, inspiring us into action, and yet in some seasons or parts of our day even, the most courageous thing we can do is rest, to linger in solitude and quiet. It appears to be nothing, and yet I have been learning in the past 18 months that the rest discovered in retreating can be the most productive and beneficial of all. Winter is the season that gently leads the way.


THE PRACTICE OF RETREATING

I use the term retreat in its simplest form: pulling back or away. This reclusive act can sometimes be viewed as selfish or antisocial, and I’d submit it is. I’d also suggest that in a world of constant connection, in a home with unending needs and conversation, in a marriage that requires two whole people in loving connection with one another, there is great value in prioritizing the care of self, in carving space to connect with your thoughts and emotion apart from it all.

As an introvert, I think I have always sought after this sort of personal space at home, in marriage and motherhood. For me, retreating is not something to wait for on a weekend away once or twice a year, it is a necessity to make space for daily, even if the time is smaller in nature. The quality accumulates. In the winter, it tends to involve candles and cozy corners and a warm drink. In the spring or fall it more often involves the being outdoors, possibly on a blanket in the warm midday sun, or maybe on a walk in the woods. In the summer more often I am outdoors in the early morning when the sun rises or as the sun sets. Nearly always it includes a bit of meditation and prayer, a book, a little music, and when possible the outdoors. It may look different for you, but I implore you, find a place to quiet yourself.


MY CURRENT PRACTICE

For me, retreating is simply a practice of stillness, silence, and listening. Since the majority of my days are spent with people or communicating in some form, this quietness provides balance. Currently, I begin my morning ritual, with silent meditation, a renewed priority in 2017. This fraction of the day is not a time to accomplish and produce but to hear, to pray, to allow whatever is unsettled in my thoughts and body to rise to the surface. For me, it is a time to let go of anxiety and fear, to connect with God and to meditate on gentle truths from the Bible, currently Proverbs 3.

During this period, I light a candle nearby and then begin by lying on my back, flat on the floor, face to the ceiling, palms up, arms at my side, feet relaxed. I close my eyes and lay still and listen. Sometimes I begin to feel anxious about the day or something else in life. Sometimes everything is simply empty. Sometimes I find fearful thoughts or anticipation and excitement about something that day. I listen and let go. I do this for 10-20 minutes, depending. Then I transition more toward mediation. I generally have the Bible nearby and I read and meditate on these words while I slowly stretch and release, physically and mentally. This part might be another 15-20 minutes, and then I continue on with the rest of my morning ritual, reading and journal if there is time before the day begins. For now, I have let go of early morning work, instead choosing to begin the day from a place of connection and rest.


WAYS TO RETREAT

There are many ways this practice can take form. I know for extremely extroverted people, the idea of sitting quiet and alone for a long period of time sounds boring and tiresome. Try something small, like 10 minutes of stillness. Here’s a few ways the practice of retreating looks in my life. It will look different in yours, and it should. Find your own style and rhythm.

daily / Although it will vary person to person, establishing a daily period of retreat is a wonderful place to start. Consider your day. What period of the day would work for your own time the most consistently? The morning? Evening? Nap time? Think through what is restful practice for you. If there is an activity that is restful for you (running, baking, painting, etc.), take a few moments to begin with stillness and quiet reflection. Listen to your thoughts. Are the erratic or sad? Are they running through your head without breath? Are they exhausted? Listen to yourself, to what you are needing: Is it peace? Joy? Patience? Hope? Release and receive through prayer. Read or recite things that are true about yourself, your circumstances, about others.

impromptu / For those in a season of life that feels absolutely void of personal space and time, pay attention for the moments as they present themselves. Sometimes these impromptu retreats can be the most meaningful because I need them right them. I notice cues, like losing patience, anxiety, frustration, etc., and so I stop whatever I am doing. I find something for the kids to do, or I clear whatever I was planning to do–even sometimes meeting with friends or going to run an errand. I find a small quiet spot in or outside of the house for meditation and prayer. If I have a bit more space in time, I might relax into reading or journaling. More often, I need to jump back into our daily routine, but I do so feeling a bit more grounded.

weekends / Weekends are a natural place for many people to find a little reprieve. If you have children, consider a swap of time with your spouse. In the last 18 months, our family has developed a Sabbath practice, a ritual borrowed from Jewish culture. We are still learning so much about this gift in our life. We begin with a Shabbat meal on Friday evening, and Saturday, we each find space for silence and solitude, for letting go and receiving. Sometimes this will be taking a long walk on my own or laying down on a blanket in the sun. We take the posture of rest, of turning our thoughts from house projects or school work or creative ideas to rest, to enjoyment of one another and also of silence. To read more about our developing Shabbat meal and Sabbath practices: here and here.

bi-annually/ These are the retreats we more often associate with the word, and they’re beautiful for having consecutive hours away from usual responsibilities to dream, to play, to learn. I have yet to take a retreat on my own. I have been to conference weekends on my own, but I have yet to go to a place alone for a weekend with no purpose. I would love this for a time in the future. For now, Mark and I try to take time of this sort together once or twice a year, and they are pivotal for both our marriage connection and well-being and for family vision. But even in our togetherness, we allow space to one another to be alone, to connect from the inside out. The same is true for weekends away with friends. They are beautiful for deepening friendships, of encouragement, but I always appreciate finding time apart from the group.

day of silence / This is new for us, an idea I picked up in this book last year, but Mark and I are sampling a day of silence for each of us, once a season. This will be a day to disconnect from our phones and computers, from work and home, for a full day of quiet, to listen and read and receive. It is a simple way for two introverts who spend a lot of time with people (including our children) to protect our spirits and souls. My first day begins next week.

More thoughts on SELF CARE.

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Light the Path | Reflections to Welcome the New Year

Reflections for the New Year

Each new year is a baptism of sorts, a release of one thing, a grasp for another. Whether one toasts champagne or simply turns the paper page on the calendar, we cross over, like mystics. Each of us. All of us. A new year.

I realize for most of us, life carries on today as usual, cup of coffee in hand, laundry, email, work. The ordinariness of time can sometimes mask its importance. I have been cleaning out closets and re-ordering spaces around the house this last week, recalibrating our home after the holiday whirl. These sort of inventories offer the best sort of reflection, a practical accounting of days and time and space. Let it go or put it in place, practically and metaphorically. The process has been that simple.

Yet through it, I have noticed more gentleness toward myself, an ease in letting go without excuse, something atypical to me. I have packed a large box of books we have outgrown, supplies we do not use, work we have completed. I threw away old planners and tangential ideas scratched on paper, opting instead to begin with a clear mind and working space. It is difficult to toss ideas aways, but they can become cumbersome and distracting to new ones. I am trusting that the ideas that matter will circle back on their own again, in their own time.

2016 taught me more about this, about letting go of failure and disappointment and unfinished dead ends, about working with steadfastness and patience. 2016 taught me more about creating in the face of fear, dreaming in spite of failure, putting down the litmus of comparison. It taught me about the power of voice and the value of silence. It’s funny how such powerful lessons can be woven amid difficult circumstances.

Like many people, I typically journal on the cusp of each year. This year, I will be journaling daily in this archival journal my friends Ronnie and Trish just released, filled with daily prompts for cataloguing the days. For me, this annual period of reflection is less about marking tasks to accomplish in the new year and is more about noticing the hidden narrative of my days, the magic lying within the ordinariness and even the hardship. I generally reflect on our year as a family relationally and spiritually. I reflect on our community relationships. I reflect on our homeschool year. Since I am goal-oriented by nature, I prefer to jot down goals for the year ahead. Sometimes I flounder; sometimes I rise. Either way, I am learning how to hold these plans a bit more loosely, to allow them room to take organic course. They are more or less a flickering light for the path ahead. They often keep my feet moving when I feel a bit lost, even if only toward the next step.

For those who are interested, here are a few of the thoughts below I use to process each new year. May they be a flickering light for your path, too.

soult-journals

REFLECT

What was the biggest success of the last year (expected and unexpected)? 

What was the biggest disappointment or obstacle? Were these temporary circumstances or something ongoing/long-term? 

Were your expectations/goals at the beginning of the year reasonable?  Were you trying to do too much at once? Did others involved respond how you anticipated? Finances? Time?

How did you use your free time (unplanned time)? Did you even have free time? Did you rest well?  List some factors or circumstances that prohibit rest/restoration.

How did you take care of yourself? Write one thing you did for yourself that you’d like to continue.

How well did you connect with or take care of others? Name a meaningful point of connection last year. Is there a way to re-create it in the new year?

How do you feel entering the new year? (excited, anxious, fearful, expectant, overwhelmed, etc.) Are any specific life circumstances contributing to this feeling? How does this emotion fuel you? Your family’s relationships/learning? Your work? How does it deplete them?

LET GO

Take a moment to let go of accomplishment and disappointment. Acknowledge your emotions and release them. Imagine yourself being emptied and cleared. Pray and ask for wisdom.

PLAN AHEAD

What is one specific way you want to take care of yourself this year? Is this daily, weekly, monthly? Write it down. If possible, share it with someone you trust, someone who will help you prioritize it.

What is one specific, concrete way to connect with those in your home in a more meaningful way this year? Just one. Is this a daily, weekly, or monthly practice?

What is one specific, concrete way to connect with someone(s) outside of your home in a more meaningful way? Begin with one. Is this a daily, weekly, monthly practice? Write it on the calendar.

What is one area of your family daily routine you’d like to shift? (I ask myself this specifically for the homeschool, too.) What do you need to eliminate? Simplify? Add? Have more consistency in? Write it down.

What part of the follow-through do you need the most help? Physically? Logistically? Emotionally? Spiritually?

What encourages you the most in your daily living? Write down one habit change to cultivate encouragement.