Bringing Nature to You

Open this link and let me give you a gift. I am learning yoga (sort of), I’ve downloaded my deep breathing app and am contemplating a more serious practice of meditation. I am not switching religions or running off to a commune. I simply find that the more time I spend quieting myself, the more joyful and efficient I am when I’m back on the move.

The exercises and techniques are all fine and good, but the best way for me to find this calmer state is to be in nature. My brain seriously never stops. It’s tiring. The only time I can completely relax and stop thinking is when my senses are immersed in the outdoors. Topping the list is picking up shells at the beach; next best is the mountains or forest with my camera. I will look up after hours of wandering and realize I did not have an anxious or serious thought about anything.

And if that sounds like as waste of time, what happens next is magical. For even though I am not experiencing conscious thoughts, my brain is doing far deeper work than usual. I emerge from those times with new melodies, new words, new connections. But as a busy Mom of 3 kids – those times in nature are often few and far between.

I heard Krista Tippett’s interview with Gordon Hempton on her On Being podcast – here’s the link: Silence and the Presence of Everything. I was mesmerized.  I then went directly to Gordon Hempton’s lovely webpage: soundtracker.com. I put all of his soundscapes in my cart, purchased them, and gleefully watched as the zipped files popped into my e-mail inbox.

I imported them all into iTunes and have them set to play on a loop. As I type this, I can close my eyes (thanks to whoever the nutty lady was that taught me to type in high school) – I am deep in the forest with a soft rain falling – there is a steady, low hum underneath with the occasional drip from the leaves, distant bird calls, and oh, the tree frog just joined in.

Of course, I’d rather actually be sitting in the forest feeling the rain fall on my head. But, alas, I have a voice recital to attend, and 1,000 words to write and chores to do. So, I have imported a little nature and will vacuum with my good headphones on. Just having this on in the background slows down the cadence of my breath and I naturally take more air in and let it all out.  My body responds with no effort on my part.

So, there’s your gift – skip Chick Fil A and spend a few bucks supporting Mr. Hempton’s important work. Do all the steps – download and import everything, make a playlist, put it on your phone and computer, and press play. You’re welcome.

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An Excellent Reading List

100 Reading Suggestions for Graduates

Sorted by genre, in no particular order…

 

Novels and Stories:

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Godric by Frederick Buechner

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

Fortune Smiles by Adam Johnson

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck

Hawaii by James A. Michener

The Alchemist  by Paulo Coelho

Everything Is Illuminated by  Jonathan Safran Foer

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

Howards End by E.M. Forster

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

 

Science Fiction / Fantasy:

A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

Wrinkle in Time Series by Madeleine L’Engle

Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy

Cross Roads & Eve by William Paul Young

Dune by Frank Herbert

Foundation by Isaac Asimov

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

The Passage by Justin Cronin

 

Science:

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean

The Lightness of Being by Frank Wilczek

The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert

The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery

A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

The Fabric of the Cosmos by Brian Greene

AsapScience by Mitchell Moffit and Greg Brown

Finding God in the Waves by  Mike McHargue

 

Wisdom and Self-Development:

Supper of the Lamb by Robert Farrar Capon

Becoming Wise by Krista Tippett

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

Daring Greatly by Brené Brown

The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison

Healing the Wounded Heart by Dan Allender

A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berge

Scary Close by Donald Miller

Love Does by Bob Goff

7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

The World Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck

The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

Teaching a Stone to Talk by Annie Dillard

 

Spiritual / Christian:

Abba’s Child by Brennan Manning

Telling Secrets by Frederick Buechner

A Grief Observed and The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken

Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen

Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer

Everything Belongs by Richard Rohr

A Hidden Wholeness by Parker J. Palmer

Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor

Acedia and Me by Kathleen Norris

Your God is Too Small by J.B. Phillips

Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott

Disciplines for the Inner Life by Bob and Michael W. Benson

Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton

The Good and Beautiful God by James Bryan Smith

Prodigal God by Timothy Keller

 

History, Biography, Memoir:

A Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Night by Elie Wiesel

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs

On Writing by Stephen King

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot

Guns, Germs & Steel by Jared Diamond

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller

As You Wish by Cary Elwes

 

Mystery authors:

Dorothy Sayers

Agatha Christie

P.D. James

Patricia Cornwell

Scott Pratt

Louise Penny

Nevada Barr

C.J. Box

Stephen King

Enjoy is An Action Verb

Make your life enjoyable.  Out of all the words spoken at my son’s commencement speeches, these are the ones that stuck. I wanted to stop it all for a minute in hopes that those words would soak into the hearts of the graduates a little deeper than all the noise about success and grit and the like.

The smart and wise young speaker, Jordan Griffin, alluded to finding this enjoyment in relationships, work, learning, & play. When he got to that specific line, the J-O-Y in the middle of that word jumped out. It occurred to me that this is our difficult calling – to enjoy this life in its moment-by-moment entirety. Finding JOY is a choice.

“Enjoy” is derived from the Latin word “occupo” – the same root that gives us grasp, seize, take hold of. Enjoyment when seen through this lens is far from the passive, just-happens-to-us, stumbled-upon thing we make of it. It is something we choose and seek and start, something we can lose, something we must find again.

How do I do this in the repetitive circumstances of my ordinary days? Do I cherish the meal that was shared and hope to share another one tomorrow as I rinse the dinner dishes? Do I contemplate the new birdsong I heard on my walk as I fold the socks that I wore on the path?  Can I notice the multiple shades of green in the grass I mow, or rest in the occasional pauses, appreciating the quiet and comfort held in my breath?

For if I can habitually find enjoyment in these cyclical and routine happenings, find meaning in what I am tempted to call tiresome or mundane, how much easier would it be to treasure the moments of lying close to my husband, of laughing with my kids, petting my dogs, filling my bird feeder while the cardinals chirp their thanks above my head, or chatting with the marvelously singular people in line with me at the grocery? Maybe I will marvel at the unique hazel sparkle of my daughter’s eyes when I wipe her tears, or dream of what her passion might accomplish when she slams the door in my face.

Enjoyment is not forced on us, or handed to us. It does not scream out from the kitchen broom or computer keyboard. It does not separate itself from the pain of loss or the shame of mistakes, but it there all the same. It is waiting to be sought, pried out, noticed, and accepted. It is under my fingertips as I type these words – it is the sensuous feel of tapping lightly on my thoughtfully designed Mac keyboard; it is the surprise at the words that tumble out of my often-wandering and spaced-out brain.


This I know for sure: the only way I will seek joy in the midst of life’s tumultuous tragedies is if seeking it has become second nature to me when the seas are calm.


I make my life enjoyable by fully occupying the space and the time I am in right now, by fully occupying and appreciating the body that holds me there, and by connecting as deeply and kindly as possible with the lives I intersect. Awake, my soul, and enjoy!

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Saturday Shadows

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The world took the life of Jesus on a Friday. He defeated death on Sunday. But there was a day in between. On that day, reality sunk in. With shock still clinging, friends were scattered to the wind; they were in the dark, and they were alone.

I have friends living in extended Saturdays – seemingly unending Saturdays. Some of them believe Sunday is coming, but there are days when they wonder. Their personal Fridays – troubled kids, long-term illness, severe depression, broken relationships – came crashing down out of nowhere.


When you are wandering through Saturday’s dark valley, Sunday often seems like a childish dream.


Saturday is a terror. Dark curtains cover the windows; food has no taste; feet feel as heavy as our hearts. The mitochondria in every cell feel starved for energy. And even if we experienced the same trauma, the awareness of our uniqueness isolates us – there is no one who can fully understand our own particular pain pathways because no one is us.

Reminding your Saturday friends that Sunday is coming is a bit like skipping down the hospital hallway singing “It’s a Beautiful Day”. Probably better to softly join them in their Saturday for a while.

Your presence might remind them that there was a once a Thursday, even if Sunday is currently beyond their imagination.

Grocery Store Gut Check

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I love my H.E.B. grocery store. It is ridiculously enormous – even for Texas. I imagine it would shock the socks of most people coming from another country, or even a big U.S. city. It is like our S.U.V.s and Ford trucks – loud, colorful, and too big for our own good. On the weekends, along with a dizzying food selection, this store also provides me with some fascinating people watching.

This past Saturday, I parked at the back of the also-gargantuan parking lot, snagged one of the last shopping carts, and headed into battle. Even with aisles as wide as most people’s living rooms, it was a challenge getting around. From the moment I exited produce, I was moving opposite an older-than-me gentleman, passing him on every aisle on our westerly adventure across the store.

This guy was fantastic. I watched him, crowded aisle after crowded aisle, gently guiding traffic, inconspicuously moving carts of unsuspecting aisle hogs, reaching the top shelf for little ladies and making funny remarks to his fellow shoppers, me included. He was ahead of me in the checkout line, hamming it up with the cashier and the tiny, tattooed, purple-haired high school girl bagging his 2 carts worth of groceries. He hollered to us, “Ya’ll have a good one!” on his way out.

Of course, he was parked directly across from me when I finally completed the trek to my car. When I finished unloading and turned around to find the nearest place to stash my cart, he was standing there waiting to snag my cart for me. I often grab people’s carts as I am walking by if I can help, but he made a special trip to the back of my car.

After that, he climbed into his big, old truck, well marked by the political stickers of my least favorite politician, and lit up a cigarette. 

My heart just sank – and not because of who he voted for. I asked myself, “What if I had seen him in his old truck with his political display, sucking on that cigarette, before I SAW him – the REAL him – in all his glorious action?” Ugh. I realized that I would have immediately viewed him differently – probably as less educated, possibly even as less kind. And he was an amazing person who had added real joy to my day! When on earth did cigarettes become associated with lower human value in my broken head – a head that struggles with plenty of addictive behaviors of its own?

I have read several things written by talented authors this past year in and attempt to better understand the racial tensions that continue to simmer in this country. I have come across the word microaggressions almost daily. Here is a simple definition of microaggression from Google: “a statement, action, or incident regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group such as a racial or ethnic minority.”

I don’t walk out my door planning to discriminate against anyone, but I probably do it without realizing it on a regular basis. My hope is that the rest of this week – the rest of this life – that I will remember my kind HEB smoking buddy when I interact with anyone who is a little different than me. If I would let one lousy cigarette cloud my judgment so easily, imagine what other unintentional judgments have escaped my attention.


“I wonder how many people I’ve looked at all my life and never seen” – John Steinbeck


Ouch.

For now, I am thankful for a lesson learned, and thankful for the kindness of strangers. My eyes are at least opened a little wider.

The Customized Caring of Jesus

Birds of the AirI was reading in John (The Message version) this morning. I love how Peterson’s phrasing gets me to look at passages in a fresh way. I read about several of the miracles – the official’s dead daughter, blind men, the woman who touched his robe, demon possessed, etc..

Then, that chapter ends and in the last paragraph I saw this: “He…healed their diseased bodies, healed their bruised and hurt lives. When he looked out over the crowds, his heart broke…”

A couple things struck a chord with me. First is how he used very particular methods to heal each person. He could have been like the evangelists on T.V., slapped everyone on the forehead and spouted, “Be healed!” Instead, he took each case on its own and found creative ways and specific words to tend to the wounds of each individual.

It says he “healed their bruised and hurt lives”. He wasn’t only tending to physical needs – this implies he was dealing with heart pain, anxiety, grief, abuse – you name it.

I think He (meaning the God-man Jesus, not just some out-there, big, invisible God) is still doing stuff like that today – even though we aren’t experiencing it as directly.

If you have a bruised and hurting life right now, Jesus looks upon you the same way He did that crowd, and His heart aches for you. He is there for you in a specific way with a healing of singular design. I have no idea what that looks like, but I hope that one day you will be able to look back on your time of pain and recognize His hand in its mending.


“Our glory is hidden in our pain, if we allow God to bring the gift of himself in our experience of it.”     ~Henri Nouwen


This might feel distant or hard to believe if you are stuck in the muck. If so, just tuck it away in a brain file so you can find it later.

Christ Among Us

Christmas – Christ among us, taking on our form, knowing the touch of our skin, our little blip of a world as viewed through our eyes, choosing to live life time-and-place bound, feeling our losses, our celebrations, our hopes, our deceptions. It is a wonder beyond description, a mystery beyond explanation.fullsizerender-1

It was The-3-in-1-United who understood, who understands, the full meaning of what happened that night of His birth, when the cornerstone was thrown into the center of an infinite ocean. The ringed waves of His love and His life-giving grace continue to spread through all time, to all of us.

I went through much of my life unable, unwilling maybe, to connect to God in the form of a man. Too vulnerable, too messy, too frightening, too weird. But I live in a human body with a human brain and a human heart. And trying to know God while boxing off that part of Him left me cold, confused, and often doubtful.

Although I could never adequately explain this in words, there came a point where I needed the tangible, palpable love of the human part of God so much that I could no longer live without it. And at the moment of that realization – there He was. I immediately understood that He had always been right there waiting.

Even though I know my physical skin did not rest in His hand and the tiny bones inside my ear did not vibrate to the sound of voice, it felt that real. Maybe it was that real in some dimension I do not understand.

What I do know is that it was Jesus who met me in my desperate hour. It was that Christmas baby grown, gone and raised again. It was the Son of Man, my Savior. He was and is Emmanuel, God with us, then, now, and forever more.

Why I Avoid Taking My Daughters to the Grocery Store

fullsizerender I could post this image and shut up, but I’m a writer, so I’ll comment briefly.

I actually L’dOL when I saw that Real Simple magazine in the mix – PEACEFUL SEASON?! As long as you don’t stand in grocery store lines contemplating just how far your body is from what it evidently is supposed to be.

I have 2 beautiful girls, 14 & 11, at the time I’m writing this. Short of starving themselves, living in a gym, and possibly undergoing plastic surgery, they will never look like the women on the covers of the magazines.

I had the delicious thought of taking a can of spray paint and skipping down the aisles covering every last bare butt, perfect breast, and veneered smile just to make a point. I’m tired of it. Aren’t most of us tired of it? I wish I knew how to stop it.

I would like to start a petition among all the women in our nation – sign it and agree that you will not ever again spend a pretty penny on a magazine with an airbrushed cover promoting a false sense of beauty, creating shame, or identifying women by their body parts. Because you know what? If people weren’t buying these magazines, they would no longer be staring at us every time we buy our eggs and milk.

Anybody with me?

Fear-Free – I’m the Daughter of the King!

“True nobility is exempt from fear.” ~William Shakespeare

I stumbled across this quote a couple days ago. I almost blew right past it, but it managed to catch a thread on the edge of my heart before it disappeared.

There was a quiet stirring inside me – a whispering, “Do you know that you are noble – far more so than any king or princess? Do you believe you are exempt from fear?”

I love this translation of 1 Peter 2:9-10 from J.B. Phillips:


“But you are God’s “chosen generation”, his “royal priesthood”, his “holy nation”, his “peculiar people”—all the old titles of God’s people now belong to you. It is for you now to demonstrate the goodness of him who has called you out of darkness into his amazing light. In the past you were not “a people” at all: now you are the people of God. In the past you had no experience of his mercy, but now it is intimately yours.”


I heard J.P. Moreland say something at a conference  years ago, and it has stuck with my fickle heart like superglue: “Belief is anything you hold to be true more than 50% of the time.” THANK YOU, Dr. Moreland, for the immense grace of those words. They have saved me from despair on many occasions.

For I DO hold to be true (a little over 50% of the time) that I am a daughter to God. He has shown me, especially in the past couple of years, that he is intricately involved in particular moments, in my almost magical experience of His creation, in His unique provision for my complicated self. I have even captured a handful of these “moments” with my camera. Here is one from a morning when I felt a spiritual compulsion (as close as I get to a voice from heaven) to stay out of my warm bed because something was waiting just for me – a moment in space and time to which I would be the only human witness.

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What was Shakespeare was thinking when he wrote the word “exempt”? It reminded me of today’s ultra-rich – the multi billionaires, the handful of humans who live in a world without borders, without rules, the “untouchables”. From a physical sense, they have little to fear compared to the rest of us. Maybe that’s Shakespeare’s reasoning – the “haves” need not wonder if there will always be a next meal, whereas the “have nots” spend each day enslaved to ensuring it.

EXEMPT – to free from an obligation or liability to which others are subject

And God is telling me that my status has permanently, eternally shifted from the “have nots” to the “haves” column. I cannot do a single terrible thing to move into my old column. When Paul tells us “be anxious for nothing” in Philippians, it is because he knows God has given us an EXEMPTION from fear.

I can still refuse to live out the truth of my new identity, scrounging through life for the love, security and approval that already belongs to me. How crazy is it for me to live that way? It’s as if someone payed off my mortgage, but I still send the check to the bank every month. Only a very disturbed, sad person would do that.

I will try to act more like a princess and remember that God’s peace that surpasses all understanding (also Philippians) is available to me every moment. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll stop sending that spiritual mortgage check.

Psalm 45:13-15: “All glorious is the princess in her chamber, with robes interwoven with gold. In many-colored robes she is led to the king, with her virgin companions following behind her. With joy and gladness they are led along as they enter the palace of the king.”

Pay It Backwards

Hey sweet Mamas – I’m paraphrasing my favorite author here – “The day you delivered your sweet little bundles, you brought them into a crazy world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen to them. Do not be afraid.” – thought borrowed from Frederick Buechner.

Other human beings will hurt us. We will hurt some of them. The question is what to do with the pain. Of course, there are different levels of pain. What I’m thinking about today is the small-to-moderate variety of human-on-human hurt. And with the start of the school year, my mind is also on my kids.

My middle kid, 8th grade girl, got my attention yesterday. I asked her if she had any particular hopes or goals for 8th grade. She said, “I would like to be more focused and present in class, but really, I just want to try to be kind to 7th graders because I wish 8th graders had been more kind to me last year.”

We hear a lot about paying it forward, but she wants to flip pain on its head and pay it backwards. What a sweet picture of redemption.

I’ve watched the same thing with my senior. He experienced a ton of rejection from 5th grade through last year. Now most of the kids who dished that our are gone, and he seems intent on making sure every kid he comes in contact with feels accepted and respected. He is investing time and energy encouraging younger tennis players, to help their hearts as well as their tennis game.

Our hearts are drawn to redemption stories. We eat up redemption movies. It is because we all understand brokenness. The thought that we could be mended, that relationships could be healed, goes to the very depths of us.

But to live a redemption story means that you must experience pain.

Brutal Redemption

This is not intended to be a brag session on my kids. Don’t worry – we have plenty of whining, door slamming, and eye rolling around here. And I have cried myself to sleep many a night knowing my kids were in pain because of social rejection.

But what an awesome thing to help our kids consider how they can take rejection, flip it around, and pay the beauty of redemption back to younger kids. This works for me, too. I had a lot of internal pain and anxiety during my years with babies and toddlers. Now, years later, how do I flip that around and give back to the Moms who are in that season now?

What does this look like for you?