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After All I've Done for You ...

 

After All Ive DoneAfter all I’ve done for you…

Have you ever had that thought? Most women I know have. We are trained by culture, church and family to give, give, give and not take care of ourselves in equal measure. It seems ludicrous to bring up the topic of self-care at the beginning of December—a time when our to-do lists have grown exponentially—or maybe this is the perfect time.

Over-giving, over-doing, over-helping, over-planning, and over-achieving of any kind usually ends up in exhaustion and resentment. Makes you wonder why we’re raised to behave this way, and then why we internalize it, and expect ourselves to live up to it, doesn’t it?

Sisters, and all over-givers—we’ve been snookered! Most of us know this already, yet, we have self-care amnesia, and need to be reminded repeatedly that we cannot pour from an empty cup (case in point: didn't I just write about self-care three weeks ago?!). I am working on a Certificate of Spiritual Direction and met with my supervisor via Zoom this morning. It almost took my breath away when she shared, “not to care for ourselves is irresponsible.” Seven words snapped me back from my self-care amnesia.

My over-responsibility toward others makes me irresponsible toward myself. Ouch. Then she said, “if you lived out of love and patience for yourself, rather than out of fear right now, what would you do after our conversation today?” Hmmm. I still have a bad headache from a migraine on Tuesday, so I told her I would ice my neck, and then go on a leisurely walk for fresh air (ice is on my neck as I write—fresh air to follow!).

It’s a great question as the holiday season begins. What would you do differently this month if you were to live out of loving, patient self-care? What giving, planning, baking,and sharing brings you abundant life? Of what can you let go? It’s a question to ponder on my upcoming walk. Energized and freed from the thought, after all I’ve done...makes a lovely self-gift to begin 2018.

 

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Give Thanks in All Circumstances

Gratitude for the Donut and the HoleIt’s easy to be grateful for blessings—the good stuff of life. Most of us are grateful for family and friends, for food and shelter, for talents and work, for opportunities and health, when these are present in our lives.

The challenge of Thanksgiving, and of gratitude as a year-round spiritual practice, is to be grateful for the hard times, the valleys, the shadows, the failures, and the difficulties. In The First Principle and Foundation of his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola challenges us with these words:

We should not fix our desires on health or sickness, wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or a short one. For everything has the potential of calling forth in us a deeper response to our life in God. Our only desire and our one choice should be this: I want and I choose what better leads to God’s deepening his life in me.

This is the challenge of our spiritual journey—to become our True Self in God. Can I be grateful for the hurts, failings, and difficulties I encounter because each has something to teach me? Can I detach enough from a present experience of misery to search and seek how God will use this hardship to shape, heal, teach, mold, and mature me, as God draws me more deeply into love?

In the Children’s Message at church last Sunday, the leader* (complete with donut-decorated leggings!) talked about donuts. Donuts have holes, she said, but at Thanksgiving, we want to be grateful for the donut, rather than complaining about what’s missing in the hole. One girl raised her hand and shared, “I know the reason why donuts have holes in the middle! It's because they cook better that way.” Aha! The hot oil can cook from the inside out as well as the outside in.

What a great image for our relationship with God! When we turn to God as we experience the holes in our lives, God can reach us more deeply from the inside out as well as from the outside in. The recent uncomfortable move from my past home in St. Louis to my new home in Frisco, Texas has been God’s invitation to me. I have left a life I loved to respond to God’s steady, unrelenting nudge into an uncertain future. I slid off the donut into the hole. Gratitude, even laced with loss, resistance and anxiety, becomes an act of faith that helps me move forward toward who God calls me to be. Today, we closed on our new house (pictured)—part of a beautiful new donut in the making!

In 1 Thessalonians 5, we are encouraged to “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” No matter where we are in life, God can use what’s happening to make us more than we are right now. This Thanksgiving, you may be on the donut, full of good things, giving thanks from the outside in. Or you may be in the hole, needing God’s presence and love to enter the struggle and to touch you from the inside out. Either way, may you let gratitude deepen your life in God, trusting that She will use all of these experiences to bring you more closely to your True Self.

*With thanks to Emily Mackey Melton Harris for the great Children's Time at Legacy Presbyterian Church!

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Grief has a Life of its Own

Grief has a Life of its OwnGrief has a life of its own. It can overcome us without warning, even years after the death of someone we deeply love. This happened to me just last week.

Dan and I were headed to the movies on his day off last Friday. He found the theater and plotted out the directions to a nearby mall. Unknowingly, we parked on the opposite side of the complex from the cinema and had to walk through the entire mall to get to the theatre on the other side. It wasn’t until we walked by the Chico’s store that I remembered my two sisters and I had shopped there with our mom over New Year’s weekend of 2012. We spent a lot of time in that Chico’s and Mom bought a jacket with a bright blue and green floral pattern. Less than two weeks later, Mom, who already had advanced liver disease, contracted a MRSA (antibiotic-resistant) sepsis infection and died after nine days in the hospital.

Grief also seems to flow in intensity—one family member is calm while another is falling apart; later the same day, the roles can be reversed. Less than a month after our New Year’s shopping trip, my sisters and I were back in the Chico’s store. That day my sisters, especially my younger sister, Julie, was calm, and I was falling apart. The clerk at the counter kindly asked why we decided to return the jacket. While I stood there with tears streaming down my face, Julie was able to explain that our mother had died before she had a chance to wear it. My older sister, Pam, held me tight while I bawled and Julie completed the transaction.

It will be six years in January since my mom died, so my grief is not new, but it is persistent. I was just going to the movies on the first date I’ve had with my husband, Dan, in four months (he started his new call at Legacy Presbyterian Church in Frisco, Texas in mid-July, and I just moved here last week). And there I was, overcome with sadness, weeping through the mall while Dan listened to this story I somehow never told him. In my mind, I was still standing at that counter crying, returning an unworn jacket. Grief came as a fresh reminder of all the other missed opportunities robbed by death.

Mom would have been over the moon about our move to Frisco—only forty minutes away from where she and my dad lived in Bedford. Now I am here, but she is not. All I can do is feel and release the pain, open myself to the comfort offered from someone else who loves me, and lean into Mom's love, which is still real and present through Christ.

We were a few minutes late to the movie, but we went anyway. I think Mom would have approved since she loved a good Agatha Christie novel; Murder on the Orient Express served as both an affirmation and a distraction.

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Small Steps to Big Self-Care

Small Steps to Big Self care

After surviving what feels like months of hard work, a thousand things to do in too little time, and the anxieties and sadness of separation, I have arrived at my Dad's house in Texas. Marcie, our dog, and I will be staying here until we can move into our new house in Frisco the Monday after Thanksgiving.

I am simply exhausted. I am physically worn out from packing, cleaning, loading, moving, and driving eleven hours to get here. I’m spiritually depleted, having led or assisted with nine funerals in the past six weeks. I’m emotionally drained after saying goodbye to St. Louis, treasured friends acquired over nineteen years, great colleagues and a wonderful congregation, and most of all, to my two children who remain behind in Missouri--Jacob, a personal trainer in St. Louis, and Leah, a freshman at Truman State.

What fills your cup when you are totally depleted? Better yet, what small rituals do you perform daily to prevent becoming completely tapped out when life is crammed full of essential tasks and other stressors are piling on? These past two months, I have re-learned the importance of small habits of self-care. Here are some things that have helped me recently:

• Asking for and accepting offers of help, and being specific about what kind of help I could use, when my habitual knee-jerk response most often is “no, thanks, I'm fine;"
• Resting, even if just for twenty minutes, with a healing meditation googled on YouTube;
• Replenishing my spirit with a daily devotion received via email from Fr. Richard Rohr (sign up here);
• Not worrying too much about stress-eating the Halloween candy;
• Taking time to say goodbye and letting people know what they've meant to me;
• Seeing my spiritual director regularly;
• Conversing with and fully attending to friends, if only for ten minutes, refilling my cup;
• Helping others and showing gratitude, even in small ways, like buying lunch for our movers;
• Taking a walk and breathing deeply when there wasn't time for the YMCA;
• Asking our neighbors for a prayer of blessing as Dan and I said goodbye to our house and drove off;
• Singing favorite tunes at the top of our lungs during the long drive;

. . . and then finally today, giving myself permission to lie on the couch, doing as little as possible!

All of this brings to mind a book I read several years ago, One Minute for Yourself by Spencer Johnson. Finding small ways to take care of ourselves daily enables us to manage and reduce stress, to care for others without becoming depleted, and to experience more meaning and joy in daily life, even during difficult times. It's a short read; I may have to revisit it.

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