My #Saywhat Kind of Morning

I spent last week on vacation visiting my family back in Iowa.

You know…Iowa.  Kind of like Grand Cayman, or Cancun.  But without the beach.  Or the ocean.  And with lots of corn.

Don’t believe me?

I’m not surprised.  People rarely equate Iowa with exotic beach locations, but that’s what it feels like to my husband and me every year as we wind our way over the mountains of Pennsylvania and across the Midwest back to our Iowa roots.  Because it’s there that we can truly relax and get away from it all.  (Plus, enjoy some family time.)

Anyway.

Upon our return home to PA last weekend, I gradually came to realize that I had neglected many things:  appointments on the calendar, bills in the mail, and my email, just to name a few.  Since Monday, these realities have pushed their way back into my life with an unrelenting force, and I’ve been running behind them playing catch-up ever since.

This morning, though, I was determined to start the day with a plan.  Get things back to normal.  Find our daily routine again.  At heart, I’m a planning kind of girl, and I knew if I could get back into my routines and write them down, I would feel better about moving through my day, especially since I am now really tired from playing catch-up all week.  Today, it was time to get ahead a little bit.

So, I sat down, as I do every weekday morning, with my Bible and read.  I prayed, and I wrote some thoughts down in my journal.  Then I did something that is really, really new to me.  It’s a new habit I’m trying out, even though I have my doubts.  You see, I signed up for this Online Bible Study that started the first Sunday I was on vacation.  (It got ignored too, in case you’re wondering.  Because, well…VACATION!)   But, before I left on vacation, I had started reading the book the Bible study revolves around (besides the Bible, there’s another book that leads us through the study, I guess.  To be honest, I don’t really know, because all the emails that are a part of the Bible study are lumped in with all the other emails I was ignoring, so…I will get caught up on that, too, and know more soon, but most people who come to read this today know WAY more about this Bible study than I do right now, so to spare myself the embarrassment of acting like I know more than I do about this, I’ll just come clean.  I read the first two chapters of Lysa TerKeurst’s book before vacation and then pretty much forgot all about it. So there you have it.)

Anyway, before vacation I had decided to try something that Lysa does every morning.  Like I said, I had my doubts, but I also knew it couldn’t hurt.  The something she does every morning could easily be added into what is already a nice morning ritual for me of reading scripture, journaling and prayer.  The difference was, this practice would require me to ask God a question (Well, nothing new there, really, I ask God questions all the time.)  The newness came in developing the habit of LISTENING FOR AN ANSWER. Now, that’s kind of new.  I usually “listen for an answer” through a trial of doing what I think I should do and then observing the results.  Kind of like a dance.  Only I usually take the lead, and step on God’s toes a few dozen times.  And then give God no other choice but to drag me across the floor because I’m going the wrong direction and about to spin us both right out the third floor window.

It’s not exactly efficient, but it’s worked for me so far.

Like I was saying, it’s a new habit.  And I liked the idea of asking for a “daily assignment” from God and expecting an answer.  This morning was my fourth morning of trying it out, and I was beginning to think it wasn’t so bad.  After all, the previous mornings had consisted of fairly painless things.  My assignments from God up until today had been fairly simple:  journal, pray, give to charity.  Pretty harmless.  I was pretty sure God was far less demanding than I’d ever thought, and was really beginning to wonder why I’d always thought that following God would be hard at all.

So, with my plan for the day written out in front of me,   I then opened my Bible, prayed, and wrote a quick journal entry.  My journal ended with my asking the question, “What is my assignment today, God?”   Then I waited.  I had every confidence that God would see how full my day already was and just give me a pass.  He’d say something like “take a nice, long bath tonight and relax at the end of such a busy day.  You’re worth it.”  I was sure of it.

So imagine my surprise when that wasn’t my assignment.

My assignment instead was to sit down and blog.

Blog??

But, I’ve barely blogged all summer!  I don’t even know what to say!  And blogging always takes me hours.  HOURS!!  I don’t have hours today to give.  I only have minutes.  Just a few.  If You want me to write this, You’re going to have to tell me!!!  Give me the words!!!  (I get real demanding with God sometimes.  This isn’t always a good idea.  But He tolerates my outbursts and demands and tantrums  with peace and kindness.  Always.   Which I just love.)

I waited.

“Blog about your reflection,” were the only words that came to me.

I still had my doubts.  I didn’t really understand the reflection I’d read today in my Bible.  I liked it, but I didn’t really understand it.  It was a reflection from Mother Teresa and the words that struck me the most were, “Love, to be true, has to hurt.”  I had wondered if that was true when I read it.  Had I hurt for my husband?  For my children?  For my parents?  For my friends?

It took some time, because when I think of loving a parent, or a child, or a husband, or a friend, I tend to think of the things they do for me.  And that’s what makes them easy to love.  But, in truth, I do things for them, too.  And at times, on both sides, we give of ourselves.

I stopped doubting.  God was asking me to blog today, not because He needs me too.  But because love—true love—hurts.  And today, on one of the busiest of days, when I had lots of other (better?) things to do, I needed to show my love to God by giving of my time,  even when I thought there was no time to give.

I was confident now it was a test.  Would I do it?  Would I do what God was asking me?  After all, “God” to most of us is an invisible voice in our head or in our hearts.  Easy to ignore.  Easy to brush off as crazy-talk or just plain ridiculous.  I could brush it off, and there really would be little to no consequence for me.  Or anyone else.  The world would not kink up on its axis.  The sky would not fall.  America would not collapse.  My lawn wouldn’t turn black.

No one would know.

No one.

Except me.   And God.

I would know.  And God would know. And suddenly, I wanted to do it.  I didn’t know what I would say exactly, and I knew whatever I said would probably not make any sense.  And I’d look like a fool.

But that’s another side of love, too, isn’t it?  Be willing to go the distance.  Be willing to look like a fool for the one you love.

So, I heated up another cup of green tea and plunked down on the computer.   My heart was committed.  There was no turning back.

Just one thing first, I thought…let me check my email. (After all… He didn’t say I couldn’t.)

And among the randomness of the emails I felt a twinge of guilt as I saw another email from this Bible study that I’d signed up for and ignored thus far.

I clicked on it.

It was an invitation for a Blog Hop, a chance to put my words out there for more than my usual half-dozen faithful readers to see.

This was no ordinary test.

It was pass-fail.  And God was letting me know, before I even began, that I’d already passed.  I was giving of myself, at a time when I didn’t think I could, to share His words, not mine, with others.

It wasn’t about me anymore, so that made it so much easier.

It was about showing others who God is to me.

How I know Him.

How I love Him.

How He loves all of us the same.

Truly.

But the only way any of us will know that for a fact, is if we stop and take the time to ask Him what He wants us to do.

And much of the time, it will probably be easier than you think.

Some of the time it will be hard, because love—true love—hurts.

But when you say yes?

When you say yes to that voice in your head/heart that is God?

Even when you *know* you can’t?

Well, I will testify to this:   it will benefit you in ways you never dreamed possible.

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My Blog Posts…They are a-Changin’

Oh, boy. Looks like I fell off the blogging wagon again.

*sigh*

I apologize.

I gotta tell you, this blogging thing? It ain’t for sissies.

I must confess that after a year of blogging, taking the time to write is still sometimes harder than I think it should be.  But that being said,  last Lent when I suddenly got a wild hair to blog every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I thought my ability to do that would last forever!

Still, alas, here we are,  a full week gone by without an entry.  (And I still have no real idea what to say.)  But the bigger issue is that I’m finding I don’t really want to make the time right now to do it.  Blog, I mean.

But please know this:  it’s not because of you.

It’s because the kids’ school years are winding down, and their activities are winding up, and I find myself twisting in the wind trying to hold on to every moment between now and their final day before celebrating their summer freedom, and lamenting that another year has come and gone so quickly.  You know, just like I do every year.

SO, on that note, I want to say that I am realizing I can’t keep up the pace of a thrice-a-week blog right now.  (Or I just don’t want to.)  Either way, I’m only committing to one post a week for a while.

I hope you understand.

And because I like to try not to leave my readers hanging (but mostly because I need to have a commitment in order to fill it) let’s say from this point forward to look for my blog on Mondays and I’ll let you know if that doesn’t work for me down the road, OK?

Whew!  Glad to have that cleared up!

In other news, I have to tell you what I was so excited to come across last weekend.  It’s one of the BEST things about moving out here to good ol’ PA.  It’s a massive book sale held once a year at our local college campus.  And for the past two years I have totally SCORED at this sale!

I have such a good time there, that I just walk in and march my little ol’ self up to the religion section, and I start throwing books in my bag.  I hardly have to even think about it…you know why?  Because the books are DIRT CHEAP!  (And by dirt cheap I mean if it’s $3.00, I may just put it back!)

Here are the great books that will keep me company this year, from the sale:

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They cost me a whopping $29.50.

I know!  (Try not to be jealous.)

Anyway, I get so excited about all I find there that I seldom realize how different my “favorite” selections are from those of my younger years.   I’m no longer among the people clamoring for the best sellers.  (In fact, it’s likely I’ve not even heard of them!)  Which may just explain why I’ve been asked on a few occasions  (usually by someone while I’m waiting at the doctor’s office) if I’m reading the book for a class.  (I guess they mean as in college?)  (If so, I’m certain they must think I’m back in school…not in it for the first time!)  Anyway, it’s happened enough times that I’m not as surprised by the inquiry as much now, and I just usually laugh and say, “Nope.  I’m just a big nerd.”  Which usually makes them laugh and we can both just move on from the awkwardness of the moment.

Since that is my “normal” experience,  I was tickled by the response of the older gentleman running the register (OK, it’s really just a calculator) at the book sale as I was checking out at last weekend’s book fair.   He’d either read them and loved them, or really wanted to read them, it seemed.   I couldn’t help but smile at his comments as he was ringing up my tab.   He marveled over and over at what great books I had found.   (Clearly he was a kindred spirit and not just “blowing smoke” as he’d not seemed nearly as fascinated with the previous person’s finding of Raising Cats and Household Handyman.)  No.  He seemed genuinely astonished at all my finds as he put the last book in the bag for me.   I think  it was in an effort to try to understand his and my “reading connection” that made him ask, “Are you in school?”  I chuckled a little but his question caught me a bit off guard.  He’d asked it differently than I’d been asked before, not just in his wording, but also in his tone.  He really seemed like he wanted to know.  (Any past inquiries had all been veiled ways of saying, “That book looks so boring you must be reading it for a class.”)  I was just as curious and impressed as he that we had these books in common.  So how should I answer?

I thought for a moment and flashed him my biggest smile.

“Well…just the School of Life,” I said.

And he smiled then, too.  Understanding, it seemed.

“Ahh…the School of Life, ” he said, “I like that.  The School of Life.”

It wasn’t until I walked away, still thinking about that moment, that I realized the Absolute Truth in my response.

What Surrender Looks Like: Lessons From a Vole

As I sat in my basement office one day struggling to string words together for the church presentation I needed to make in only a few days’ time, I became distracted by a vole.

Do you know voles?  I tend to think of them as the ugly cousin of the field mouse.  Or, more positively, the better looking cousin of the mole.  I found a picture of one to post here for you, but to be honest, the ones we’d see in our back yard weren’t as cute as this one.

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Anyway,  the vole had fallen down into the window well of our basement office window.

The window next to the desk holding the computer where I sat trying to create my presentation, thank you very much.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw it fall into the window well.  I got up to glance at it and see if it was OK (to be honest, this was not an unusual occurrence).  I saw that the vole was fine, and I made a mental note to go outside and rescue it once my presentation was more complete.   But, to my surprise, the vole began clawing his way up the window screen trying to get to safety.

Yeah.

It was creepy and distracting all at the same time.

 Well, I thought as I tried to ignore him, because, after all –PRESENTATION!– maybe I won’t even have to save him.  But no.  He got to the top of the screen and could not scale the expanse between himself and the grass where he needed to be.

So, fall again, he did.

(Total sidebar here, but I can’t help but think of Yoda with the way I just strung those words together…can you?)

Anyhoo, my point is, this climbing and falling went on not two or three more times, but probably half a dozen or more.  And the whole time I sat there, further distracted, each time hoping he would save himself, so that I could continue with my creative process.  Finally, defeated,  the vole stopped trying.

And I thought, Great!  Now I will finally be able to GET SOMETHING DONE in the peace and quiet.

But, I couldn’t. stop. thinking. about. that. stinkin’. vole.

So, in a huff and with a sense of complete disgust, I went upstairs, grabbed a bug net, and went out to the window well and rescued the vole.  I  released it out into a part of the yard where I thought he would be much more happy–near the wood pile.  (And since he didn’t reappear in the window well, minutes later, I can only assume he was happier there.)

By the time I got all done with that whole exercise, what little sliver of a creative process that I’d had up to that point,  was now completely lost.

I sat there staring at the blinking cursor on my computer screen and had nothing to say.

As the cursor blinked away at me,  my thoughts became jumbled with the laundry list of things I needed to get done in addition to my presentation.  And I began sweating at the thought of it all.  Come on!  Come on! THINK!  I’d shout internally.  Give me the words, God!  I’d scream inside.

But my thoughts would always go back to the vole.

WHY CAN’T I STOP THINKING ABOUT THAT VOLE?!?!!? 

And then, though I’d barely realized that I’d asked a question, an answer formed in my heart with  these words, It wasn’t until he stopped trying to save himself, that you rescued him.

Hmmm.

Maybe the reason I couldn’t stop thinking about that vole, was because that experience was a lesson meant for me about trying to force the creative process, especially when I’m trying to force it for God.

Lesson learned.

I realized then and there that I can think (part of the creative process) about what I want to say while I’m doing just about anything else.  And I can write down notes (also part of the creative process) as the thoughts come to me.  And I can sit down and write more when the time is less forced (creative process again!).

And you know what?

It all worked out.

My presentation got done with time to spare.  The house and kids didn’t suffer (too much, anyway) as a result of my neglecting ALL OTHER THINGS for the sake of the presentation.

I can’t tell you how often, still, I think of that vole.  But, I definitely think of it anytime I feel that creative process being forced in me (which is often).  And it’s that vole that make me think of ways I might be able to surrender myself a little more to the circumstances of my life and trust that all will still be well in the end.

Yep.  That vole sure knew a thing or two.

Because, three years later, it hasn’t failed me yet.

My (not so obvious) Easter Miracle

The candy is mostly gone and the world assumes Easter is over. Not exactly. The momentum that may appear to have been stuffed in a tomb is, instead, loose in the world. The Season of Easter provides 50 days in which to get used to the concept that the stone has been pushed away. The momentum is sufficiently ample to hold all our sorrows and enable us to risk the abundance of joy. -Helen Barron

I loved this little thought Helen Barron shared in her Easter newsletter from Candlepress. I think of all the momentum I had going into Lent and the changes I wanted to make. What a long haul those 40 days seemed once I got into the middle of them and how many times didn’t I want to just “go back” to the way things were?

But now, Easter is here, and I can see (when I take the time to reflect) that I have been changed. Not in the ways I’d hoped or planned, perhaps, but I’ve changed all the same. In “giving up” my excuses, I have noticed changes in the following areas:

  • Diet and exercise: I have not had a Diet Coke  in almost two months, and I now exercise a minimum of 4 days a week (but usually 6). This has not amounted in the 20 lb. weight loss I’d dreamed of that all the infomercials promise, but I have lost 5 lbs. and I continue to eat better each day.
  • Writing: I think the calendar on the  right is proof enough that I have been able to blog every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for almost a month!
  • Household chores: I’ve always had a set schedule for chores since the time I was very young. What’s happened over the course of the past 13 years that I’ve stayed home, however, is that I’ve found my motivation for staying on a schedule to fall into the category of the most mundane. I mean a girl can only clean out toilets every Tuesday and Friday for so long before she really starts to doubt that maybe there’s something more.   But over the course of this past Lent, I’ve told myself it doesn’t matter if they’re dirty or not, I’ll do it anyway to save myself having to do it  when they’re really dirty.  And while I haven’t been perfect about it, I’ve certainly been more routine in the last 40 days than I have for quite some time. Which brings me to my final realization…
  • Being less than perfect: This is an odd one for me to realize, because I would have never said I was perfect before. Or probably even a “perfectionist.” But as I peeled back through the layers of why I’d failed at keeping routines down before (like diet and exercise, writing, and chores) I came to realize that I would stray from the plan at the slightest sign of it not being perfect. In other words, I’d think that if I didn’t exercise right away in the morning, I might as well not exercise at all that day. And if I missed one day, then I might as well miss two because “the week’s been shot,” etc. The same goes for writing. If I couldn’t put out something that felt “complete” I  didn’t want to post it. And, of course, the chores… why wash dishes right away this morning, when they’ll be dirty ones again by lunchtime?  But that’s what I’ve learned: life isn’t perfect.

But, of course, life isn’t meant to be perfect.

It’s meant to be lived.

Sure, we should make plans and try to keep some balance in our lives by striving for our best work.

But we’re almost always going to fail.

In fact, I’ve come to believe we’re meant to.

Because, as C.S. Lewis once said, “All this trying leads up to the vital moment at which you turn to God and say, ‘You must do this. I can’t.’ ”

And seeing it in this light, from the most ordinary of “duties” has, for me, brought God from “out there” to “in here.” I’ve long understood, of course, that God would care about whether or not I broke a commandment, but would he care if I broke a promise to myself?

One month later, five pounds lighter, a calendar full of regular blog posts, and the house a bit cleaner, I have to admit I’ve changed.

Or rather, Some Thing has changed me.

In ways I never thought possible.

My “perfect” stone has been “pushed away,” and opened a space for an abundance of joy in the most ordinary of ways.

It may not sound like much…but it’s my Easter miracle.

 

P.S.  Check in with me Friday, and I’ll show you around the new place here at The Mystic Mom!  Also, I apologize if you received this post in an incomplete mess yesterday.  I was “housecleaning” here on the blog and accidentally published this before it was properly “cooked.”  Oops.  Good thing I’ve gotten OK with being less than perfect! 🙂

21 Days

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By this midpoint of Lent, I hope you’re finding your Lenten journey has been fruitful!  It is amazing the things that can be revealed to us, as we sit quietly in the desert of our hearts.

I’ve had a bit of a startling realization myself this morning.  Although, to be honest it really shouldn’t be that startling, because it’s almost always the same realization, shown to me in a new way:  the realization that I have a real knack for getting in God’s way.

This morning’s realization came to me after finally writing out in my journal exactly what I’d hoped to accomplish when I began this blog last Lent.  And when I wrote out those memories of what I’d hoped to achieve, I had to face the reality of what was wrong now.

Here’s what I remember about my reasons for the launching of The Mystic Mom:

1.  To share with “the world” (which at that time consisted of my mom, my mother-in-law, and a few friends of mine–Hi, Faithful Readers!), how I “see” God working in my life all the time.  Since I felt that the “mud had been wiped from my eyes” after reading several books by and about mystics (in various faiths…not just Christianity) I wanted to share how the Being that I call God really is a very ordinary and real part of our everyday lives.

And that’s it!  That was the start and end of my list at that time for starting this blog.

But, here’s where I get in the way.  Because as soon as I hit that “publish” button for the first time, a whole new list of thoughts began to form.  You know, those sneaky little thoughts that you try not to even entertain, but somehow seep into your being and attach themselves to the other, simpler, intention?  Thoughts like:

  1. Maybe someone would tell me how much my writing has changed their life.
  2. Maybe that person will tell some other people and one of those people will be a publisher.
  3. Maybe that publisher will want me to write a book.
  4. Maybe I won’t have an idea for a book, and my one chance for ever writing one will be gone!
  5. On the other hand, maybe I will have an idea for a book and it will be published, but not sell.
  6. Or, maybe that book will be a New York Times best seller!
  7. Maybe I will become famous for that best seller.
  8. Maybe I will have to travel the country promoting my book.
  9. Maybe I’ll have to travel the world!
  10. Who is going to watch my children while I’m traveling the world?
  11. Will my husband be jealous that I’m now traveling the world and the kids are more his responsibility than ever?
  12. Will our marriage survive this jealousy?
  13. What will we do with all the money, too?  Will we give it to charity, or hoard it for ourselves and become all focused on riches and wealth and forget all about God?
  14.  OK, Reality check.  The book will never get written.  The world doesn’t need another book.  Especially a book by me.
  15.  I’ll just blog sometimes.  For fun.
  16. Or , when I have something really important to say.   And that I know is coming from God.
  17. And also if I have the time to blog. If I don’t have the time that’s OK, too.  God will surely understand that.  I mean, he blessed me with motherhood three times over.  Surely he knows how busy I am!
  18. God probably doesn’t really need me to say anything anyway.  He’s got a whole slew of angels to deliver his messages.
  19. Plus, there are lots of better messengers than me.  More gifted.  More talented.  Just…better.
  20.  Why am I doing this again?

Do you see what happened there?  Over the course of the past year, I’ve drifted away from my original intention of taking my enthusiasm for understanding God through mysticism to “the world” and convinced myself that I should fear failure, and success, and just about everything in between.  So the posts have dwindled, the keyboard was broken, and The Mystic Mom was silenced.

And in that silence, God was able to be heard.

So this morning, when I  asked God to walk me through this whole process again and show me what it is HE intended (if anything) for me on this whole blogging journey, he very conveniently pointed out how far I’d strayed from my original intention.

Then he very conveniently also pointed out the one thing I’d promised to “give up” this Lent…my excuses.

And I know from experience, that excuses can only be extinguished with actions.  If I begin to act, then the excuses disappear.  This type of action is called discipline (from the word disciple), and it takes a lot of effort–especially in the beginning–to follow, and trust, and allow yourself to be transformed in the being God intended you to be.

For me, the act of discipline is, in most cases, the same thing as forming new habits.  I’ve heard it said that forming a habit takes only 21 days. I hope that’s true.  That’s why I’m announcing today that I will now be forming the habit of publishing a blog post every Monday, Wednesday and Friday through the end of Lent.  I will also tweet and post some other encouraging words on my Facebook page five days a week. 

It’s a start.  I don’t promise my posts will be good.  And I’ll probably surely fail the schedule at least a few times.  But, I promise I’ll get up again, when I do.   Also, in the beginning at least, I’ll probably be doing a lot of sharing of other people’s writings and words instead of my own.  But it’s the action of writing every day that I need in order to get rid of the excuses.

I learned a long time ago that what the Catholic church calls “sacraments” are really actions, not things.  They are actions of God for people.  We call them visible signs of invisible grace.    They are not “received” by us, so much as they are “celebrated” by us.  Because God is always everywhere, so is His grace ever-present.  Sacraments are the principal action through which Christ gives his Spirit to Christians and makes us a holy people.  We celebrate by affirming, honoring and praising our life in Christ through the sacraments.

With that reminder, I am now keenly aware that my writing…this blog, my journal, (a book?), whatever…is my sacrament.

My only real “job” here is to TAKE the experiences God gives me, BLESS them with a grateful heart, BREAK them into a lesson, and GIVE that lesson to others.

Why would I want to make an excuse for that?