working out what life and call and prayer and silence are all about

Me on the far left, pink shirt

Me on the far left, pink shirt

One week ago, I was a bundle of nerves. I was preparing for my trip to Discovery Yoga in St. Augustine, FL for a 5-week class on teaching yoga, and I was paralyzed by my anxiety. What should I pack? Do I need another pair of shoes? What if I can’t keep up with the anatomy lessons? Is there a tutor for people who are allergic to science? I’m not very advanced in yoga – what if I’m the worst one in the class and everyone laughs at me?

Me on the front row, in black

Me on the front row, in black

I brought these and so many other questions, along with my bike and kayak (and a million pair of shoes) as I started class Sunday night. The homework started right away (reading in anatomy!) and I launched into a whole new schedule (yoga from 7-9, quick breakfast, philosophy & ethics from 9:30-12:30, break for lunch and back for poses, anatomy, and practice teaching from 2-6.) The last couple of days have been a whirlwind of new people, new vocabulary, new muscle soreness and exhaustion. I expected to be shutting down at this point, overwhelmed with the learning and the lifestyle. But through an act of grace, I was guided to choose Kripalu yoga for my teacher training, a school of yoga that emphasizes self awareness in body, mind, and spirit rather than perfection in poses. And so here is what I have already learned:

I have what I need. I may not have a wide selection of yoga clothes, and I may wish I had brought more silverware so I didn’t have to wash my dishes after every meal. But I have a comfortable bed to sleep in, a grocery store close enough to bike to, and a community with resources to share. What I need for each day continues to be provided.

I will learn what I need to learn. I will probably have to study my anatomy book more than my philosophy book. I may struggle with the foreign language terms and feel childish as I give instructions for a pose I’m not an expert at. But I am certain the learning will come, because I feel it already blossoming within me.

Yoga is not a competition – with anyone else or even with yourself. What my body needs to do today, I will honor. Where my edge in the stretch is today may be different from yesterday. Pushing past that edge only leads to pain, and, to quote one of my teachers, “Yoga is supposed to be about ahh, not ow!” My physical ability is only part of what I bring to my yoga practice.

I’m on a journey into new territory, learning a new skill, learning a new way of seeing the world. But beyond that, I sense the deeper purpose of that grace that led me to choose this yoga teacher training program. What I’m here to learn is a new way of seeing myself: strong and weak, powerful and vulnerable, searching and found. And though I may only be a few days into the process, the glimpse I’ve had of that vision is glorious.

I meditate with a 9-year-old boy in the room. Seriously. It may sound crazy, but it’s for real.

Before I was a mom, I had a fairly regular prayer and devotion practice. I went to great lengths to create a special corner in my home that would be peaceful and supportive of my practice. I scheduled my day around my prayer time, knowing how important it was that I not miss it. And on the days when my schedule was out of my control or my then-husband was noisy, I got really irritated. How dare they (the event, or the person, or life in general) interrupt my prayer time! This is sacred!

And then I gave birth. And got divorced. And started taking care of my mom. And – well – you know how life goes. Just when you think you’ve grown up and got everything under control, the bottom drops out. Because having everything under control was always just an illusion anyway.

In the midst of all that life has become, still I have my prayer practice. It has morphed and shifted and come to include more silence than reading or journalling or talking to God. But still I make time to sit and pray. Every day. Sometimes twice a day, if it’s been a rough one.

I still have a prayer corner, though in our latest house it’s pretty cramped. But there’s room for me and my prayer mat and my candle stand. And that is enough.

And in this stage of my life, my house is rarely silent. I live with a 9-year-old boy who loves Legos that crash, Nerf weapons that fire, and Star Wars vehicles that zoom. He knows that noise disturbs me when I’m praying, and so he tip-toes around me to get to the bathroom, losing his balance on the way, grabbing the door to keep from falling, and banging it against the wall. Quiet is a distant memory. But I have found quiet within me. And that is enough.

On the days when my mind can’t seem to settle down and my meditative prayer is more effort than ease, now I know not to get irritated at the boy I live with or the ministry activities that edge into my personal time. Because I’ve learned it’s not them – it’s me. I can choose to let go of my expectations of perfect prayer and just let go, experiencing whatever the silence has in store for me that day. And it’s in the letting go that I discover I’m being held – held by the One I was seeking through the silence. Thanks be to God.

I am the Queen of Avoidance. It always starts out as a reasonable time-management strategy: I can’t give my full attention to this big issue/new development/major project, so I decide to set it aside until I can concentrate. And so begins the game I play. The rest of my day is so busy that I can’t possibly address the issue/development/project until I get home. And then I get home and I’m so tired from work that I need some down time to let my brain rest. And then it’s dinner time and then we’re off to whatever evening Bible study, Cub Scout meeting, or choir rehearsal we have that night, and the day is done. After my son’s in bed, I could sit down to work on the issue/development/project if I really wanted to, but then I think to myself, “This issue/development/project is so fraught with emotion, I’ll never be able to get to sleep if I take it out now.” And the next morning begins another day of avoidance, cleverly disguised as time-management.

This week I’ve been especially clever, since the end-of-term activities are demanding so much of my time and attention. But my latest issue/development/project has been looming large in the distance. The emotion around it is incredibly toxic and it’s been sucking the life out of me day by day. Every time I consider sitting down to deal with it, my body is flooded with adrenaline, my breathing quickens, and my heart rate increases. And last night, it nearly drowned me in despair.

I was driving home in the rain from a choir rehearsal that hadn’t gone that great. On top of that, this not-great rehearsal was the reason I had missed my son’s big choir performance at Wassailfest (SW Texans know that’s a big deal!) I was feeling like an unsupportive mom and a lousy singer, and that just opened the door for my dreaded issue/development/project to rear its ugly head. I began to feel overwhelmed by the emotions surrounding this task I didn’t want to face, which then brought up all of the other failings and failures of my life, and suddenly I found myself on the brink of total despair – heart pounding, breath quickening, and a tsunami of tears ready to burst from my eyes. I wanted to give in, to just give myself to the sadness and let it envelop me so I could disappear. And then I stopped.

In the midst of the flood of images of the mistakes I’ve made and opportunities I’ve missed, another thought was gifted to me: I am grateful. Even though I’ve had my share of disappointment, I am grateful for the life I’ve led, for the adventures I’ve had, for the things I’ve learned. And in that moment of gratitude, I took a slow, deep breath, and the tsunami of despair was gone.

And so today, I acknowledge that I am still on this journey of comprehending the power of silence, how the Spirit moves in and through us, and what it means to be present in the moment and grateful for the now. I’m still the Queen of Avoidance, and I haven’t tackled my issue/development/project yet. But it’s not haunting me today. Because today, I’m grateful, for every moment, for each and every now.

when plans go awry

These regrets are going to drown me,

swirling around me like they are.

If only I could rid myself of the If Onlys

today could be – finally – just about today.

But Yesterday is my closest friend, and Last Year my next door neighbor.

Those anguished, second-guessing glances

keep me twisted, looking over my shoulder

making it impossible to breathe.

Today becomes a proving ground

where Yesterday’s failures are replayed

and, painfully, relived.

I’d like to take these glasses off

that see only success or deep and utter failure.

Is there another way to view the world,

my life, this place where demons dwell?

Is there room for trying and chancing?

making it up and accepting what comes?

I am not without hope.

This tiny space within

where all is well and everything belongs

is gaining ground

one silent moment

one deep breath

one exhale at a time.

to the anonymous bully

I’m thinking of you today, anonymous bully. You’ve hurt people I love, the young people I’m called to support and encourage as they grow and develop and mature into the amazing adults they’re called to be. You’ve posted things online that aren’t true, or maybe are true, but are hurtful, things you would never have the courage to say to their face. And that makes me angry.

I want to know who you are. I want to confront you, to accuse you, to find out why you did this. It’s so frustrating not being able to track you down.

But bully, it’s probably good that you’re anonymous, because knowing your name would make it too easy. We like for problems to have simple solutions. We like for evil to have a face, because then we can focus on just one person, or even one group of people, and place all the blame on them. And after we’ve blamed and shamed and punished and found our retribution, we go home and sit in our self-righteous recliners and pretend that we’re not still tangled up in the problem. We kick back and relax because there’s no need for further investigation into all the complicated forces at work in the world and in our lives. There’s no way that any of our actions, any of our inaction contributed to the problem. Because we know evil’s name.

So it’s good that you’re anonymous, because we can’t just blame you. We have to acknowledge that we all could be you. And in fact, we’ve all probably been you at some time – lashing out in anger because we’re hurting, not thinking of the consequences. And so your anonymity makes us all stop and think about our own responsibility to the community. What ways have we hurt people that we need to apologize for and ask for forgiveness? When have we turned a blind eye when we’ve seen someone hurting and not responded? How have we worked to build up the community by encouraging someone who’s down, supporting someone in need, helping someone who’s struggling?

But what if you weren’t anonymous? What if I found out who you are? What would I do, really, if I could sit down with you? I think I’d look compassionately into your pained eyes, and put my hand on your shoulder as I asked how you’re hurting. What wounds are you carrying that make you lash out at everyone else? What pain is making you view the world with such judgment and venom? I’d want to listen as you shared, as the stories poured out of you about how you’d been bullied and degraded and ridiculed. And I’d want to give you a word of hope – that you’re not alone, that you’re not as worthless as you feel, that you’re valued as a part of this community.

I’d pray for you, right then and there. Not because I believe that you need me to put in a good word for you with God, but because you need to hear that God is as close as your very breath. And I’d pray that you would have the strength to make changes in your life, and the courage to reach out to the people you’ve hurt and make amends. I’d pray for the community we share here, that we would all have the compassion to forgive you, and the faith that enables us to work together, bullies and victims, to build new relationships based on our value and worth in Jesus’ eyes. I’d pray for that because I know we can’t do it without the power of the Holy Spirit working in us and through us.

I’m thinking of you today, anonymous bully, knowing that you and I aren’t so different. We’re both beloved children of God. We’re both human and make mistakes. And we’re both part of this community. Let’s work together to build it up.

I never got around to framing the photos from my ordination. I had grand intentions of making enlargements of the photos of me with my home pastor, the laying on of hands, and the huge group of pastors who were present. But life got busy after that exciting day and there never seemed to be time for making a fuss over pictures. Except for one.

picture of friends at my ordination

picture of friends at my ordination

I found this frame and knew instantly that I would use it to display this photo of my friends. These are the women who encouraged me through the low points of seminary and who built me up to believe that I was gifted and called into ministry. They are all still my friends though we’re scattered across the country, and we continue to encourage each other across the miles. Because that has made all the difference.

Encouraging each other takes actually very little effort. When you ask people what helped them through a tough time, it’s usually not that a friend took over the running of their household and raising of their kids for a month so that they could sort out the challenge (although I’ve heard of that actually happening.) It’s usually just that someone called to see how they were doing, or that someone invited them to lunch, or that someone listened long enough to hear the whole story.

Encouragement is simple and profound. It gets us through the day. And for those of us who ask WWJD? (what would Jesus do?) it’s one of the first answers. Jesus was in the hope business, and encouragement was his specialty. And his disciple Paul, it turns out, gave instructions to new congregations of Christians that always included the admonition to encourage one another, like the verse on my picture frame.

Earlier this week I was having a bad day. Technology was throwing up roadblock after roadblock and nothing I was trying to do was working. So I decided to go out for a run. Starting a run in a bad mood is usually counterproductive for me, but I had to do something to work out my frustrations, so I headed out on my warm-up walk. And just as I turned the corner where I start my run, I saw these friends:

cows who live on the ranch across the street

cows who live on the ranch across the street

They live on the ranch across the street from my neighborhood, and I see them from a distance most every day. They graze from pasture to pasture and usually aren’t very interested in the humans going about their lives on the other side of the road. But on this day, they were congregating around the fence, and seemingly very concerned with my day. Their heads all turned toward me as I walked past, and they rearranged themselves to face me. I got a couple of “moos” as well, which just added to the experience.

If you grew up around cows, this may mean nothing to you. But I needed encouragement that day, and these cows were it. They were there to send me off in my frustration and were there waiting for me to return transformed. No words were exchanged, no grand gestures were made. But only the gift of presence, and the reminder that I am part of a grander scheme of creation and connected with life in so many forms around me.

My girlfriends weren’t there to encourage me, but God’s creatures were. And as I ran, I remembered that encouragement is all around, in the life force surging through nature, in the faces of friends and neighbors, in the very act of breathing and moving and growing stronger. The Spirit is our encourager, ever present, ever hopeful, ever bringing life.

If you need encouragement today, let this be it: that the God who created heaven and earth also created you, and has promised to be with you through the power of the Holy Spirit. Thanks be to God.


I was determined to have a real workout. I was out of town for a meeting and my travel schedule was interrupting my training schedule. In order to stay on track and be prepared for my half marathon that was 2 months away, I knew I needed to go for a run. And it couldn’t be just any run. It had to be a good run, a hard run, a challenging run. And so I headed out the door, hoping to find good weather and a safe route for this important workout.

forest 2

Shortly into my run, I came upon a gated park. The path looked inviting, leading off into the Ponderosa Pine forest, and the sign saying “Residents and Guests Only” made me want to discover what was behind the barrier even more. And so I took the path. It was a great start to my run – semi-paved and shaded by the trees, it led me to increase my pace and enter into that intense workout zone. I was cruising along when all of a sudden I was confronted by a hill. No, actually, it was a small mountain that rose up in the forest and taunted me from a distance. I judged its distance and incline and determined to keep running so that I could still get in a good training run.

I began to suck wind 2 minutes into my ascent. This was a serious hill with a serious incline and definitely not a place for a long distance training run. I needed to keep running. I needed to get a good run in during this trip or my whole training schedule would be thrown off. I needed to log these miles so I would be prepared for the miles of my race. But there was no way I could keep running up this hill. I was gasping for air, my hamstrings were screaming, and I was starting to get dizzy. So I stopped running.

Feeling defeated, I walked as fast as I could. Hiked, actually, as I was now on a dirt/rock path and was trying desperately to avoid twisting my ankle on the boulders. And the whole time, I was cursing this stupid path I decided to take. Private park? Nothing special here except a ridiculously steep hill. Training schedule? Shattered because I couldn’t run at the pace I needed to run. This crazy hill had ruined my workout and my day. All of those thoughts ran through my mind as I continued to climb and hope desperately that around the next bend would be the flat, beautiful part of the path that would redeem my run.

When all of a sudden I looked up. My eyes shifted from scanning the path for boulders to the view above the trees. And I was blown away. There beside me was a panoramic view of the valley – the homes in the neighborhood, the school at the corner, the fields of sunflowers across the street that faded into the base of the mountain peaks that rose up beyond the clouds. I could see for miles, and it was glorious.

I slowed my pace then. I didn’t care that I was missing out on an intense workout, because I was experiencing the intensity of the beauty around me. I had been so focused on my goal that I almost missed the opportunity that rose in front of me. And I had to laugh at myself. My workout was no longer the most important accomplishment of the day – what I valued more was being in the moment, being present to the beauty of the world around me.

I had been so angry about having to slack off my pace to climb the hill that I failed to see that the hill was leading me to a beautiful place. And I realized that I would have missed it entirely if I hadn’t been a slacker.

I get caught up in my regular life, too. I get focused on a goal and feel pressure to meet expectations from within and from those around me. But more often than not, the antidote to that hyper-focus and pressure is slacking off, taking a deep breath, and looking around. Because that’s where the Spirit is at work, swirling around me in creative bursts of energy and life, drawing me into new possibilities.

I’m grateful for that hill. I’m grateful I was forced to be a slacker. And I’m grateful for the chance to notice all the ways the Spirit is creating and renewing and completing life around and within me.

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