Wednesday, August 19, 2015

On Mindfulness, Resonance, and God


Is it the latest buzz, the newest health craze, or is it, could it be God, calling us?  Is this the heart and voice of God to our culture, to this generation, to each of us, and are we hearing it, but maybe not knowing who or what it is?  Is it the cry of God, reaching out to us, echoing its truth all around us until we hear it?  Is it resonating in us because it is drawing us, because we feel the truth of it somewhere inside?

There is an new buzz word out there right now...for quite a few nows actually - the word mindfulness. Everywhere articles are being written and speakers are speaking about the power of and the need for us to slow down, be present, live in the moment, be mindful.  Brain scientists have discovered fairly recently that meditation creates mindfulness, and actually changes how our brains work.  Large companies are exploring how mindfulness is connected to innovation and creativity.  Psychiatrists and counselors, wise people and writers of Facebook memes and women's magazines are telling us that mindfulness counters stress, and in so doing impacts our health.

Is it God, calling us?  Have we begun to pay attention to this because God's voice is reverberating all around us and our hearts are responding to the sound?

Way back a long time ago I used to play guitar. And I learned something kind of cool that I didn't know before.  When a guitar is just laying there, sans player, and someone close by plays a note that is the same as the note one of the guitar strings is tuned to make, that string will start to vibrate with that sound, all by itself.  The sound has to be close enough, both in proximity and accuracy for it to work, but when it does it is totally cool.  Are like that too?  Is there something inside of us, put there by our creator no doubt, some part of us that recognizes truth?  And when we hear truth in close enough proximity and accuracy, and when nothing heavy is laying on that part of us and stopping the vibrations, maybe that truth vibrates within us?

If it is God calling out to us, to all of us, why would he be calling us to mindfulness?  Well, think of it.  Where do we experience true connection with each other?  What does face to face and eye to eye contact do to our hearts?  How and when does true love penetrate our souls?  What is required of us if we are to be truly present, truly mindful: honesty, humility, confession, acknowledgement of our genuine selves, living in reality, not in wishful thinking or in the future or the past.  And is that not how and when we truly encounter God?  Put another way, how is a generation obsessed with who we wish we were, and with success meaning production so much that we live far beyond our real time capacity almost all the time - how is that generation going to encounter God?

Is God calling out to us?

If we are always in our minds eye wishing we were different, better, somewhere else, we will not connect with God there.  If we are going through our day planning the next meeting, the next shopping list, the next day or week or month, we will not connect with God there either, any more than a child will connect with a parent who is glued to a screen or immersed in a task.  Connection only happens when we stop, look at the other, and gather our thoughts enough to think about and focus on what the other is saying, doing, feeling.  Connection only happens when we are present. When we are mindful.

If God were talking to me, reaching out to me, would I even notice?

Is God calling out to us, to all of us?

And if He is, the call to mindfulness is really a call to Himself.  So often when I think our culture seems to have encountered truth, I think of this line in the bible "having a form of godliness but denying its power." (1Tim. 2:5) We hear the truth and recognize it in ourselves (and what is truth if not godliness), but we deny its power - because for anything to have the power to change us we have to embrace it fully, and we have to tap into something bigger than ourselves. We have to find the life that is inhabiting the truth.

How do we find the power in mindfulness?  The power in mindfulness is that mindfulness is the place where we truly are, and that is where God waits for us, in all his forgiveness, love and life.  It is the same as with all our relationships - true connection happens only when we are genuine and when we are present.  All that honesty, humility, confession and acknowledgement of our genuine selves needs love, acceptance and forgiveness.  And then we realize need life - life full of more than ourselves, life not laced through with death like ours is - life full of courage, strength, ability and love, true love that exists beyond our own judgmental, fearful and self-protective capacity.  We need a safe place, a safe heart big enough to see us, to forgive us, to love us still and to give us hope and faith in the future.  We need a love big enough to love us but not lie to us either.  It's no help to just realize who we truly are without having a way to be there, and not just be there but to live and thrive there. The power in mindfulness is that mindfulness is the place where we truly are, and where God waits for us, in all his forgiveness, love and life.  Without that encounter, then mindfulness might slow us down a little, might relax us a little, but it will not truly change us.  But without mindfulness, we will not encounter the God who can and who will.

Can you hear it?  Can you hear the heart of God calling to us?

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas Perfection vs. Emmanuel

I have friends who are spending Christmas this year in a far away country and without family.  They have been on my heart this year, as I go through my Christmas preparations as usual.  This morning they sent out an email describing their current reality and how they plan to spend Christmas this year.  One line in their description twigged me: ..."when they (the locals) watch Hollywood style Christmas movies of families fathered around a table eating turkey with all the works they can't relate." My immediate thought was, actually, neither can I.

I started thinking about our North American obsession with making Christmas perfect.  We watch commercials and see ads and magazine covers about how to find the perfect gift, how to cook the perfect turkey, how to plan the perfect party, how to decorate perfectly and in the current style, how to find the perfect dress for New Year's Eve, how to do the perfect holiday manicure; I even saw a Facebook post on how the hostess can do her hair perfectly for Christmas dinner!  There is even Christmas china to buy and serve Christmas dinner on, and then to pack away for the other 364 days of the year. We watch sappy movies about how things were relationally dysfunctional but even that family found perfect love and family bonding by the end of the movie. We even say things like "he ruined Christmas" if someone dares to die during the holidays! We think employers who lay someone off before Christmas are insensitive and cruel, and someone's health diagnosis just before Christmas can put a huge damper on the whole thing as well.  We even have special services for people who are struggling at Christmas, since their hope of a perfect Christmas is unreachable this year and that makes their struggle even worse.  And as the one who does most of the Christmas planning and preparation for my family, I can tell you that it is the stress of getting everything perfect that gets me every year, even more than the number of tasks before me (most of which come from my desire to make everything perfect!)

But contrast that to the world into which Jesus arrived.  Jesus, who God sent to reveal Himself to us - which is an amazing concept to me: that God essentially wanted us to know him better - and saw how very much we needed saving, that he sent Jesus.  Jesus was born into to a world where a foreign dictator could decree that everyone had to travel to their home town RIGHT NOW to pay him a tax. No mother in her right mind, even today, would travel so close to her due date, so we know there was no choice of when to make that trip (or when to pay that tax!)  I don't want to know what happened to anyone who couldn't go or who couldn't pay! This was a world in which the ruler could wake up one morning and decide to send his soldiers to kill every boy baby in a whole town simply because he was feeling threatened.  I can only imagine how many individuals 'disappeared' quietly or not quietly at all on a daily basis under that kind of leadership.  And on a more personal note, Jesus arrived in a family dealing with an unplanned pregnancy to a young woman who said the Holy Spirit had impregnated her.  And a young man naive enough to believe her and stay with her. I can only imagine how that might have strained relations with the extended family! Not to mention them having to leave mothers and family and family health care at 9 months along...

The fact is that Jesus arrived into a world of pain, terror, and dysfunction.  One could even argue that those things are the very reason he arrived at all.  God, in his love and mercy, with a longing for us to know him as he really is, sent Jesus, a precious baby, to re-introduce us to himself.  Of course Jesus grew up and did amazing things to reveal God to us, and procured our very salvation by his death and resurrection.  But I believe that all of Jesus, from his birth to his death, revealed and reveals to us God's heart for us.  He sent Jesus to us in our sin, in our pain, in our oppressive dysfunctional world and lives; as a beautiful, joy-bringing, heart-melting baby.

In our North American pursuit of perfection at Christmas there is no room for Jesus.  There is only stress and anxiety and all the beautiful wrappings as we try to at least make it look, taste and sound perfect in the midst of all our relational dysfunctions and the pain of our real lives.

There is one good thing about our obsession with perfection: it highlights all that is imperfect for us, with stark contrast. This Christmas, instead of upping the busy efforts to hide it, I hope you and I can look our 'problem areas' - our pain and sadness and hopes for things to improve in the face.  I hope we can find some moments to over the holidays to welcome our current reality with honesty, and then welcome Emmanuel, God with us, right into the midst of THAT.  All of our struggles and loneliness and painful areas - these are the reasons He came and He still comes to us.

Merry Christmas

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Fashion and Nakedness

...sometimes we need to get naked.  Let me explain.

I am a frequent flyer on Facebook.  On there, many of my friends share great encouraging sayings and such, which are full of strength and grace.  They share words that speak to the basic idea that we are all doing the best we can with what we have, that we often forget just how much we do have, that we are strong and beautiful and loved, and that we should value ourselves.  All good, encouraging reminders to all of us to be kind to ourselves and not underestimate ourselves as friends, mothers, daughters, sisters, as women.  I love it - I love them all.

But today I was reminded that those kind and strengthening words are like clothes, like fashions that we carefully choose and put on to set off our assets as best we can, and hide our imperfections.  They make us feel beautiful and valuable, and that is important.  They have an important place.

Intimacy though, that most profound of personal connections that changes us and touches us in our true heart of hearts - intimacy requires nakedness.  For intimacy, with God in particular but also with our lover; intimacy requires that we let ourselves be known just for who we are.  In order for our hearts, our insides, our true selves to feel a real and deep connection to another we have to shed our fashions and our beautiful exteriors we work so hard to create, and let ourselves be seen fresh-faced and bare - nothing hidden or disguised.

That this takes courage is an understatement.  But it is here, when we lay down and take off all our reasons however true and valid they are:  "I did the best I could with what I had"  "I cannot be all things to all people" "It isn't all my fault" "I can't control how he/she reacts to me" "Nobody's perfect" "I can only do what I know" "I gave everything I have/had" etc.  Here, when we can admit to our God and ourselves that even so, even with all of that, we were/are not enough or not as much as we wanted/want to be, that we could not save our dear one from ____, or that we have hurt those we love: whatever failure strikes at our hearts like no other - here is where - if we can be that naked - we can have the very humbling experience of true forgiveness, acceptance and free love of our God.  Our hearts crave that kind of connection.

But as long as we still have our clothes on, some things, like real, humble, honest and excruciatingly vulnerable connection does not happen.

Clothes and fashion and effort put toward who we present ourselves to be and how we look to others are important.  Intimacy is not appropriate and in fact is devalued if we apply it to every setting.  But is is terribly needed, both with another human being and with our God, if we are ever to experience real and true love, acceptance and forgiveness - of the sort that changes who we are.

I pray for you, that you would have the courage to lay it all down, take it all off in your life, and let true love into your soul.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

you are SUCH a NAG!! Ouch.

We like to say some people are nags, but in truth I think most of us have taken our turn at it.  We nag ourselves, we nag each other, we nag our kids.  We nag when something bugs us but for whatever reason that's as far as we have moved toward the problem.  We get stuck at expressions of irritation and our desire for it to STOP!  There is no action phase to the nag.  I guess that's why it happens over and over again until both nagged and nag want to scream and get far far away from each other.

Nagging is a sure sign of disconnect.  It shows a disconnect in the nag, between the desire for change and the lack of action.  It also shows a big disconnect between the nag and the nagged - also shown by the lack of action.  If the nagged was really connecting with the nag, then action would be taken, and change would happen, right?

I think nagging is the result of lack of attention.  I swat at things when I nag, like swatting over and over again at an annoying fly in the kitchen, but never stopping what I am doing to find the fly swatter and deal with it, or to shut the screen door so that they stop coming in!  Nagging is not a sign that everyone around me doesn't care about me.  Nagging is a sign that I have not given the issue the attention that it clearly deserves.  If the issue is a constant irritant, then it must matter enough to get some of my attention.  If it didn't matter, I would quickly forget about it, let it go, shrug it off, ignore it.  I don't nag about those things.  Much.

Nagging is horribly negative though, because it sends the regular message:  You are a problem, you are not succeeding right now, you are failing right now, you have let me down yet again.  Over and over again that same message.  Who needs it?  Do I really want to be embodying that kind of message? And more importantly, what effect is the disconnect having on my relationships?

I can't nag myself to stop nagging the people around me.  Like my own nagging of others, that won't work.  But I have created a plan to move from nagging to action and silence it for good, one issue at a time.  To do that, I created this list of questions for myself, working with the belief that if I am nagging about this it obviously matters enough to me to warrant my attention. I think I owe that to myself and to the nagged one as well.

So with a particular nagging issue in mind I asked myself:

1. Does he/she (the object of your nagging) really understand what I am asking of him, why and when this is/isn't appropriate, why this is a problem and what he can do about it?  Do I even understand why this bugs me so much?  Have I communicated this in a way he can understand it?

2. Can he do this?  Considering maturity, age, ability, disability, emotional maturity, other life demands right now and temperament, is what I am asking even possible?  And if it is possible, how difficult is it?  Can I help?

3. How important is this for me, for us, for his future, for our future, for building life skills?  What is at stake for him if this doesn't change?  For me? If I let this go all the time, what will the ramifications be? In light of that, should this be a priority?  Are there other things I am asking that are more important and should take centre stage right now?  Can this wait for the right time?

4.  Am I prepared to dig in and insist even if/when he pushes back about this, and even if I have to impose a consequence (for children) or pay the price of holding my ground frequently?

5.  How can I follow through/hold my ground effectively?  Considering the possible frequency of the problem, what would an effective, relationally healthy and 'doable' consequence/ground-holding look like?

6.  How can I equip him vs. control him and/or punish him?

7. Since it is always true that we can not change each other but only ourselves: Is there anything I can change in myself, such as my reaction/attitude/etc. with regard to this issue that I should consider?Should I be looking elsewhere for the resolution to this for myself?

After I made this list I was feeling very clever and oh so effective.  So I began.  No. 1.  Does he really understand?  I began to look into this.  I made some effort to make sure of this, and to teach this kid what I was asking in a different way that might make more sense to him, considering who he is (vs. who I am).  And I am happy to report that as of now, problem is solved.  An understanding has been reached and we are no longer disconnecting on this issue.

So numbers 2-7 remain for the next time I realize I am again being 'such a nag!'

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Thirty things that have changed in my life since I started counting calories:

This is a list of some of what has changed in my life since I started counting calories last winter.  I am quite amazed at most of these - not what I expected!  Which is why I am sharing.

1. I have lost quite a bit of weight.  (Yes, I did expect and hope for that!)

2. But I am shocked and kind of horrified at how much I ate before; probably twice as much as I do now. It took about 6 weeks to adjust, but now if I eat the amount I ate before I feel terrible and uncomfortable and yucky for quite awhile afterwards.

3. This fact (eating less) allows me to buy better quality food and some foods I didn't before because of the cost, since cutting quantity by half has saved us a lot of moolah!

4. Two large monkeys are off my back: The critical b&%*@ that harped on me about my weight every morning when I looked in the mirror is one.  When I started this I decided that I either had to shut her up or do something about what she was saying.  I chose the latter because I knew I wouldn't succeed in truly convincing myself that 'just the way I am' was okay with me.  I didn't realize how much that was affecting me, but it makes sense - I was being criticized and nagged every single morning!  Who needs that?!

4. The second large monkey off my back is worrying about my husband's health every time I heard or read about the risk factors for a heart attack.  I know there are no guarantees, but he has removed this risk factor from his life. That is a great relief to me.  (In fact it was him that got us started on this, and he has lost more weight than me.)

5.  He doesn't snore any more.  (see also number 8 and number 12!)

6. I finally eat fish twice a week, like they say we should, for our health. I always read about this and thought 'I should do that' but never did it.  Now I do simply because fish is a low cal. protein, and it is also super easy and fast to cook.  And I have discovered that I love shrimp!

7. I finally eat lots of fruits and veg, for the same reason.  Dinner is now 1/4 of our plate meat, and 3/4 vegetables, and a starch only when the protein isn't meat.

8. I don't eat junk food.  I just can't fit it into my calorie count unless I give up a meal, and I am unwilling to do that.  The simple fact is that junk food has so many calories I can't eat it without going over my limit.  And truth be told, if I have extra calories I can eat, I choose dark chocolate or Baileys in my chai tea!

9. I sleep better.

10. I feel stronger and I can do more without getting out of breath.  (I am working out twice a week as well)

11.  I am much more motivated to work out, since when I burn more I can eat more.

12.  Instead of avoiding physical activities I look for the opportunity to do them in the course of my day, both because I can do them more easily now, and because of number 11.

13. I am very happy with how I look.  (I have dropped 3 sizes)  This sounds vain I know, but like it or not it is honest.  (And I don't know a woman out there (or man either actually) who doesn't secretly and honestly want to look good.)

14.  I am not tired all the time.  When I wake up in the morning I feel rested.  (Unless I stayed up too late the night before!)  Before I started working out I felt tired and dragged all the time - even went to the doctor to find out why.  Since I have lost weight this has improved even more.

15. I pay attention when I am eating.  I don't get to eat whenever and whatever anymore, so I make sure I enjoy every bite!

16. If I don't like it a lot, I don't eat it.  I just don't have enough calories to waste some of them on mediocre food!  I even will take one bite of cake and put it down if it isn't beyond delicious!  This is amazing to me! I would never have done this before.

17.  See above: I pay more attention when I am cooking, and put extra thought into trying to make things that are delicious.  I cook vegetables much more creatively and with a lot more variety.

18. The portions in most restaurants are so huge, I have trouble eating out.  It just seems like such a waste of both food and money to only eat half of it, and a lot of the so-called healthy choices on many restaurant menus actually taste boring, dry and terrible, so I prefer to eat at home.  This is quite a switch for me! High end restaurants are far healthier both in food ingredients and in portion size. And they put a lot of effort into creating great taste without relying on salt, sugar and fat.  So I don't eat out much; I can't afford it!

19. If I decide to indulge and go over my calorie limit, it is for something absolutely grand, delicious and worth it!  Like butter tarts:  I pay attention, eat slowly and savour every single bite. Or a beautiful, expensive glass of red wine...

20. I no longer think of food as a stress reliever or something that I 'deserve' after a bad day.  The cost of eating like that longer term is too high for me.  I can feel good (eating it) for a few moments, or I can not eat it and feel good overall.  I look at food as both an amazing pleasure and necessary fuel. Eating because I am stressed out actually doesn't make me feel better, it depresses me now because I know I will pay for it in ways that I don't want.

21.  Sometimes I walk away from the snack for a few seconds and ask myself:  Which do I want more? What is more important to me right now: potato chips, or to be thin and healthy?  Because I know I can't have all three. (And actually the last time I had a couple of chips I didn't even like them as much as I remembered I did!)

22.  Each day is a unit unto itself: success has to happen within each day or almost every day, or I will not succeed.  Trying to carry things over, as in 'I will make up for this tomorrow', doesn't work for me. That quickly becomes an excuse for me to ignore my limits.  Similarly, if I go over one day I have to leave that in the past and start fresh the next morning.  One day at a time is really what I need to do.  This has got me thinking about other areas of my life where I procrastinate....

23. I don't drink pop or juice any more, because I don't want to drink up my calories, Pop and juice don't fill me up, so I am left with no calories remaining and still hungry.  So I drink water, club soda with a bit of 100% real cranberry, cherry or lime juice in it, and also lots of tea. Sometimes I decide to have a lovely Somersby Apple Cider on a summer afternoon or a great glass of wine with dinner but when I do I have to treat it as food.

24. Interestingly, I don't crave salty snacks any more.  I crave sugar.  I have no idea why this is, since my whole life I have preferred salty snacks vs. sweet.  But now sugar in fruit really hits the spot, and I will often have honey in my tea. Sugary desserts usually taste too sweet, unless (what is this?) a lot of butter is also involved.  Like in butter tarts...or pie...mmm...

25. I have learned to my surprise that 'healthy' foods are often higher in calories, such as quinoa vs. rice, whole wheat vs white flour in baked goods, nuts and seeds vs crackers.  So if I am eating these healthy foods I can't just switch them in for their less healthy counterpart like I was doing before; I have to change how much of it I am eating too, or I will gain weight.

26. Similarly, 'healthy' fats like olive oil are still fats and very high in calories!  So I have to think 'as little fat as possible' and not just 'olive oil is good for me'  or I will use too many calories up in fat.

27. I haven't had bacon in a long time...

28. Every day can be a 'special occasion' if I use that as a reason to eat more or something high in calories!  Really!  My definition of a special occasion has narrowed down quite a bit!

29. Some people (who know I am counting or know I have lost weight) are uncomfortable around me now, especially when there is food around.  I don't like this.  I decided I wanted to do this for me.  I wanted to shut up my inner b^&%* and feel better.  Whatever works for you is not on my mind.  I can't hear your inner b&*^? or feel how you feel, so how you eat/live doesn't bother me.  I care about who you are and that you are okay.  And I hate how we compare ourselves to each other.  I hope you don't feel like I am judging you just because how I choose to eat/live/whatever might be different than you. And if your inner b#$&^@ is telling you that when you are around me, then you need to slap her, because that is not true.  And I don't like it when people say things like 'you are so lucky you don't have to worry about your weight,' as though it is happen-stance or luck that I am thin now.  It isn't, it is a choice I have made. And it is hard work.  It's not that I need you to acknowledge that for me, but it bugs me because with that statement you are also saying 'I can't do this/have this for myself."  When the time is right, you can.
And I don't like how it feels like being thin and sort of in shape is something that comes between me and some people.

30. Some of my friends think I am depriving myself and hard on myself because I don't allow myself to have certain foods or large amounts of foods any more.  But in truth I feel amazing and blessed and fortunate and pretty much the opposite of deprived!  

I am working on this concept in other areas of my life...