Snow day

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With snow in the forecast for much of Central and Eastern North Carolina today, this is a timely reflection from Wellness Advocate, Lisa MacKenzie.

Last week I visited my daughter, her husband, and my 5-month-old granddaughter in Pennsylvania.  It was bitterly cold and snowy, and I realized that I had been missing the crisp mid-winter chill and crunchy snow and the hush that comes with January storms in the northeast.

Looking out the kitchen window one morning, holding baby Guin, I watched cardinals in the cardinal in snowfront hedge against the pure white of fresh snow and thought about the 2 months of winter ahead and the storms that would inevitably come along with the disruption and inconvenience of slippery roads, school closings and frozen pipes. But in all the chaos of storms comes the blessing of solitude and stillness.  I thought that morning that I had been given this gift of space and solitude many times but often didn’t acknowledge the gift—maybe it was the warmth and cuddliness of a baby and the smell of wood smoke along with the softness of the gentle light at dawn that became prayer in the quiet kitchen. That morning I didn’t miss the gift.

I read a recent post about snow days on a blog called the Busted Halo by Christina Gebel. She writes:
What I realized, or perhaps simply remembered, is that snow is a reminder to take pause, with others or even just with ourselves. The presence of snow can be a great spiritual exercise for us, inviting us to quiet down and be with ourselves.
If you want to accept the invitation to pause and go deeper, you might consider a few of these suggestions:
•    Read a good book. Though it might sound cliché, how often have you “been meaning to” read something but never gotten around to it? Maybe there’s a spiritual read you’ve been meaning to pick up. Try starting the book on a snow day and then reading five pages each night as part of your nightly prayer.
•    Have fun. There is no rule that only kids can have fun in the snow. When was the last time you went sledding? Went for a walk in the woods during winter? Went ice-skating? Built a snowman?  A snow day is the time.
•    Take a good look at snow. Snow is symbolic of so much of the spiritual beauty in our lives. Why do you think God made snow the way it is? Would it convey the same feelings if it were a different color? Different texture? Each snowflake is unique, reflecting the diversity of God’s creation. It’s made of water, which can be both soothing and powerful, reflecting the humility and omnipotence of God. Take a glove-full of fresh snow and meditate on the beauty and paradox of God’s creation.
•    Be still. Be quiet. Snow has the ability to quiet a city, but it can also quiet our inner self. Go outside and stand in front of a winterscape. Or stay inside and feel the warmth and the absence of sounds outdoors. Repeat, to yourself, the line from the popular hymn, “For You, O Lord, my soul in stillness waits.”

So now I am home in Apex and it seems to me it’s time for a snow day… maybe you think so too.

-Lisa MacKenzie

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Image by Flickr user rkramer62 via Creative Commons

Re-framing “self-care”

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The following thoughts have been excerpted from a blog post entitled, “Self-regulation over Pastor Hesterself-care,” by Dan Hester, on his personal blog, ParsonDan.  Pastor Hester is a Group 3 Spirited Life participant and currently serves at St. Andrew’s UMC in Charlotte.  

“Much has been published about clergy self-care. Most of what I have come across makes the simple point that if I am in better shape, then I can be more effective as a pastor. A smaller portion of the material reminds me that God doesn’t need me to die for anyone; that’s already been handled. The burgeoning and much needed movement of positive psychology adds that God really doesn’t want anyone to be miserable, and self-care can help us enjoy this good life. I cannot find much fault with any of these points of view. Oddly enough, however, neither have I found much motivation to actually make needed changes in my life from these insights. Where I have found some recent motivation is with a systems thinking based view of the problem.

Systems thinking would rather talk about self-regulation than self-care. Self regulation is the basic functioning that makes self-differentiation possible. It’s what gives me responsibility for what’s mine, and leaves to you what is yours. Self-regulation is the capacity to choose wisely, based on solid-self principles and not on the anxious needs of the moment…

The language of self-care hasn’t always been effective for me. I think that ineffectiveness is because the phrase never conjured up any consequences apart from my own body and mind. But, when I think systems about the consequences of my choices, somehow the language of self-regulation connects with me. Through systemic thinking, I know that these decisions are not just about my own body, they reverberate across all my relationships. My excuses for not exercising usually have to do with lack of time. I can replace the important work of exercise with other important work. But if I see exercise as a building block of personal integrity, if I see it as a gateway decision to other important decisions, if I see it as a self-regulating act that has implications into my family and congregation, then that decision becomes irreplaceable and thus I have a little more success with it. I emphasize a little.

…I want to positively affect the lives of my family, my congregation, and myself. The best way I can do that is through doing my part in the emotional systems that connect us all, and practice self-regulation. Self-regulation is taking responsibility for my own condition, focusing more on my own resiliency rather than the environment, trying my best to act on my best thinking rather than my anxiety, ridding myself of the notion that the rules of biology don’t apply to me, and creating a repertoire of responses rather than banging away with one tool only. In the long run (no pun intended) this kind of practice will help me stand up for my convictions. It means I’ve upped my exercise regimen from zero to two or three times a week. Big whoop, right? But at least I’m moving.”

-Dan Hester

To read Pastor Hester’s blog post in its entirety, click here.  

10 Things I Want My Daughter to Know About Working Out

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4627134131_95949d83af_oBrynn Harrington, of the wellness blog Wellfesto, recently wrote a post that resonated with me about what messages we pass on to our children about health and well-being. She starts by telling the story about being in an exercise class and having the teacher tell the class to picture themselves fitting into “that dress.” For Brynn, this is NOT the reason she works out, and not the message she wants her young daughter to internalize about her body.  She then goes on to write ten things she DOES want her daughter to know about working out:

“I want her to grow up knowing that…

  1. Strength equals self-sufficiency.  Being strong – particularly as a woman – is empowering.  It will feel good someday to be able to carry your own luggage down the stairs if the airport escalator is broken, and it will be important to have a solid shot at outrunning a stranger should you meet one a dark alley.
  2. Fitness opens doors.  Being healthy and fit can help you see the world differently.  The planet looks different from a bike or a pair of skis than it does from a car or an airplane.  Out in the elements you have the time and space to notice details and meet people and remember smells and bugs and mud and rain and the feeling of warm sunshine on your face.  And those are the moments that make up your life.
  3. The bike is the new golf course.  Being fit may help you get a seat at the table.  Networking is no longer restricted to the golf course, and the stronger you are – and the more people you can hang with on the road and trail – the more people you’ll meet.
  4. Exercise is a lifestyle, not an event.  Being an active person isn’t about taking a class three times a week at the gym.  It’s about things like biking to the grocery store and parking your car in the back of the lot and walking instead of taking a cab and catching up with friends on a hiking trail instead of a bar stool.
  5. Health begets health.  Healthy behavior inspires healthy behavior.  Exercise.  Healthy eating.  Solid sleep.  Positive relationships.  These things are all related.
  6. Endorphins help you cope.  A good sweat session can clear the slate.  You will have days when nothing seems to go right…when you’re dizzy with frustration or crying in despair.  A workout can often turn things around.
  7. Working out signals hard-working.  The discipline required to work out on a regular basis signals success.  Someone recently told me they are way more likely to hire marathon runners and mountain climbers because of the level of commitment that goes into those pursuits.
  8. If you feel beautiful, you look beautiful.  Looking beautiful starts on the inside.  And being fit and strong feels beautiful.
  9. Nature rules.  And if you’re able to hike/run/bike/swim/ski/snowshoe, you can see more of it.
  10. Little eyes are always watching.  We learn from each other.  You may have a daughter—or a niece or a neighbor or a friend – one day.  And that little girl will be watching and listening to everything she you say and do.  What messages do you want her to hear?”

She concludes: “I’ll never talk to my daughter about fitting into THAT DRESS.  But I will talk to her about what it sounds like to hear pine needles crunching under my feet and what it feels like to cross a finish line and how special it is to see the world on foot.  I will talk to her about hard work and self sufficiency.  I will teach her the joy of working out by showing her I love it.  And I’ll leave the rest up to her.”  Read the whole post here.

What are the reasons YOU work out and what messages do you want to pass along to your children and grandchildren about health and exercise?  Try making a list and see what you come up with.  You might even surprise yourself.

Caren Swanson

Image by flickr user Saurabh_B via Creative Commons.

What Is Your Rope to the Barn?

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a hidden wholenessI’ve been a fan of the author and teacher Parker Palmer ever since reading “The Courage to Teach” in college. In today’s blog post, excerpted from his beautiful book “A Hidden Wholeness,” he writes thoughtfully of the need for “a rope to the barn” to keep us connected when life’s “blizzards” threaten to overwhelm us.  

Reposted from his blog at the Center For Courage & Renewal. 

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The blizzard of the world
has crossed the threshold
and it has overturned
the order of the soul.
—Leonard Cohen

There was a time when farmers on the Great Plains, at the first sign of a blizzard, would run a rope from the back door out to the barn. They all knew stories of people who had wandered off and been frozen to death, having lost sight of home in a whiteout while still in their own backyards.

Today we live in a blizzard of another sort. It swirls around us as economic injustice, ecological ruin, physical and spiritual violence, and their inevitable outcome, war. It swirls within us as fear and frenzy, greed and deceit, and indifference to the suffering of others. We all know stories of people who have wandered off into this madness and been separated from their own souls, losing their moral bearings and even their mortal lives: they make headlines because they take so many innocents down with them.

The lost ones come from every walk of life: clergy and corporate executives, politicians and people on the street, celebrities and schoolchildren. Some of us fear that we, or those we love, will become lost in the storm. Some are lost at this moment and are trying to find the way home. Some are lost without knowing it. And some are using the blizzard as cover while cynically exploiting its chaos for private gain.

So it is easy to believe the poet’s claim that “the blizzard of the world” has overturned “the order of the soul,” easy to believe that the soul—that life-giving core of the human self, with its hunger for truth and justice, love and forgiveness—has lost all power to guide our lives.

But my own experience of the blizzard, which includes getting lost in it more often than I like to admit, tells me that it is not so. The soul’s order can never be destroyed. It may be obscured by the whiteout. We may forget, or deny, that its guidance is close at hand. And yet we are still in the soul’s backyard, with chance after chance to regain our bearings.

This book [and the resources of Courage & Renewal] is about tying a rope from the back door out to the barn so that we can find our way home again. When we catch sight of the soul, we can survive the blizzard without losing our hope or our way. When we catch sight of the soul, we can become healers in a wounded world—in the family, in the neighborhood, in the workplace, and in political life—as we are called back to our “hidden wholeness” amid the violence of the storm.

Excerpt from Parker J. Palmer, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life. Jossey-Bass, 2004

–Caren Swanson

Nelson Mandela, 1918-2013

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FILE PHOTO: Nelson Mandela Stable After Undergoing Operation“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”

— Nelson Mandela

When I found out that Nelson Mandela had died, I felt small and alone and scared. It’s like when I was young and had a problem but my parents weren’t home to solve it. I was old enough to be home by myself – but I still wanted someone wiser and older and better to be there with me. That’s how I feel today. Like all of a sudden we are home alone.

But it hit me this evening that we ARE wiser and older and better now. We are the peacemakers, we are the caretakers, we are the decision makers now. We are the grown-ups and this planet is ours.The buck stops with us.

Let’s honor Mandela by doing the very, very hard work of refusing to fight others and choosing instead to fight our own egos. Let’s fight for our Earth and for the vulnerable folks – our sisters and brothers – who live on it. Let’s take our places as the leaders of this home. And let’s start in our own families and friendships and neighborhoods.

If not us, then who? If not now, when? 

Thank you, Mr. Nelson Mandela. We will take care of this place you loved so fiercely and tenderly. Until we meet again.

                                                                     –Glennon Doyle Melton

When someone like Nelson Mandela dies, it’s hard to know what to say. I like the words of Ms. Melton reminding us that we all have our own work to do in the spirit of Mandela. There is a lovely tribute to him on the UMC.org page highlighting his many connections to Methodism. May he continue to inspire us all, and may he truly rest in peace.

–Caren Swanson

Rev. Dan Gobble: Success With Naturally Slim

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This is a guest post by Rev. Dan Gobble, pastor of Providence UMC in Salisbury, NC. It was originally featured in Naturally Slim’s newsletter and is reprinted with permission.  

All Spirited Life participants have had the opportunity to participate in Naturally Slim, and pastors still receiving services (Group 3) will have an final opportunity to enroll in 2014. 

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I recently turned 50 years old. At my annual physical in 2012, my doctor told me, “Dan, it wouldn’t hurt you to go hungry once in a while.” At that time I weighed around 240 pounds. I knew he was right. There is a BMI chart on the wall beside the scales in his office. I knew that, for my height, I was way over my ideal weight, almost in the morbidly obese category. I was frustrated because I wanted to do something about my weight, but I didn’t have confidence in what I knew about weight loss.

Dan collageIn the meantime, my employer, the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church began a program to help clergy better manage their health. Being a pastor is a high stress job, and clergy often have problems dealing with the stress that comes with it. As a result, they often experience weight gain and develop markers for metabolic syndrome like, high blood pressure, high or out of balance cholesterol, and even diabetes, which affect their health and quality life. Since entering the ministry in 2002, I have gained about 45 to 50 pounds. Over the years, my doctor had put me on blood pressure and cholesterol medicine. I was also borderline diabetic. When he told me at my last physical that it wouldn’t hurt me to lose weight, I finally RESOLVED that I would DO something about it. When the church offered the Naturally Slim program as a possible way to help us manage some of our healthcare concerns through weight loss, I jumped at the chance.

I had always been skeptical of diets and weight loss programs because I saw how folks struggled to sustain the results over the long haul. The thing that attracted me to this program was the overall common sense wisdom and the well-organized approach. This program looked like something I could incorporate into my lifestyle by making some “doable” changes. When I tried to lose weight in the past, I had no real success because I had no real understanding of how my body deals with food. Naturally Slim explains how our bodies and food interact and then Naturally Slim gave me a straightforward, workable plan for losing weight that made sense, and which is backed up by nutritional and medical facts. For example, after following the Naturally Slim plan for just a few weeks, I realized that I didn’t need to eat in the morning. I had been a big cereal eater for years, but it was more out of habit than a true need for fuel. Now I have some H-2-Orange in the mornings, plus some coffee, and I can enjoy food when my body needs it later in the day. This cut out a lot of unnecessary food on a daily basis.

Another facet of the program which really helped me lose weight was cutting out the sweets and high sugar foods (especially the constant snacking and grazing on sugary foods). Lowering my food intake, and learning the importance of eating slowly gave me a winning strategy for weight loss. The final component of the program that I found helpful was the pedometer that Naturally Slim sent in the starter package. It made me become more intentional about walking around the neighborhood and working to get a minimum number of steps in each day. As a footnote, I have now walked over 1,000 miles since April of 2013. I’ve always wanted to do more running and jogging. I am happy to say that I can now run a 5K (something that was impossible prior to the weight loss). I also enjoy an active lifestyle, including walking with my wife and our dog, running, and riding my bicycle.

I never really thought I would come close to attaining these results at this point in my life. I thought there was no other option for me but being overweight and in declining health for the rest of my life. But Naturally Slim has helped me reverse some negative trends in my health. At my last physical in June, my doctor took me off blood pressure and cholesterol medicine. I’m at the recommended BMI for my weight & height. I’m wearing the size clothes I wore when I was in my early 20s! I look and feel so much better and I have a much better self-image (I took my shirt off and body surfed the waves at the beach this summer, without being self-conscious about my appearance). My family is really proud of my weight loss. I get asked on a regular basis to reveal my secret. I tell everyone who will listen, “If you’re really interested in losing weight, then you need to check out Naturally Slim”. I’m a believer!

Update

Since Dan started the program in late March of 2013, he has lost 63 pounds.  At that time he weighed 233. He now weighs 170 pounds.  His waist has been reduced 10 inches from 44 inches in March of 2013 down to 34 inches in Oct 2013. He also reports that he is off all medication to control his cholesterol, and all cholesterol numbers have improved to the point that they are better than they were when he took the medication to keep them under control. 

Do You Need A New Rhythm? ~ Part IV

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This is the fourth in a special series on Sabbath by guest blogger Rev. Dianne Lawhorn. Please read the first installment here, the second installment here, and the third here. We offer these reflections in the hope that you will feel invited to deepen your own Sabbath practice. Thank you to Dianne for sharing these thoughtful reflections with us in this space!

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I believe that there are two important things to consider when you are planning for Sabbath time.  These two things are what to include in your Sabbath time and what to leave out of it.  So, let’s start with what you might want to leave out of your Sabbath time.  We should think about doing more of what gives us life and doing less of what drains us.  This calls for some reflection on our part.  We might ask ourselves: what do we find to be life- giving and what do we find to be life-draining? What helps us to give and receive God’s love and what hinders us from doing that?  These questions may sound familiar to you as they are the Ignatian Questions of Examen.  They provide a wonderful spiritual check-in for how our rhythm is working for us.

worn white cardboard box isolated on white background..When I think about what is life-draining for me, it’s rushing, deadlines, multi-tasking, being always available, unrealistic expectations, and not feeling the freedom to do the things at my own pace.  Wayne Muller speaks in his book, Sabbath, about having a Sabbath box- where you place the things that are not invited into your Sabbath time.  So, I might put my watch, cellphone, or my calendar in the box.  The idea is that you don’t allow the things that drain you to enter into your Sabbath space, you protect yourself from them for a set- aside time.  This is about freeing yourself up to take a vacation from those things.     

Once the life-draining things of life are set aside, then, you are free to open yourself to experiencing the life-giving things that replenish you.  For me those life-giving things are easing into the day, not always being available through technology, and allowing myself to do things at a more leisurely pace, as I actually lose track of time.  As you create your Sabbath space; you should be encouraged to feel free to do whatever you need to do for yourself.

318203573_0d6273c2eb_bI have been observing Sabbath for quite some time now.  I can say that it has been the most helpful spiritual practice I have found.  It has really opened up space for me to nurture my spiritual longings, without feeling guilty about the time that I am spending doing so.  This practice has brought refreshment to my soul and helped me to embrace a new rhythm.

As you enter into your Sabbath time, you might consider using these questions of Examen as well.  For most of us, it has been a long time since we took the time to consider what drains us or what brings us life.  Considering these questions will help you design a Sabbath day that truly ministers to your soul.  I pray God’s blessings on you as you embrace the kind of Sabbath Rest that will bring you life.  I celebrate the gifts that await you within it! 

Dianne Lawhorn

DianneDianne is currently the Minister of Spiritual Formation for the Lydia Group which is a resource for spiritual wholeness offering formational teaching, retreat leadership, and spiritual direction.

 

Do You Need A New Rhythm? ~ Part II

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This is the second in a special series on Sabbath by guest blogger Rev. Dianne Lawhorn. Please read the first installment here. We offer these reflections in the hope that over the next few weeks you will feel invited to deepen your own Sabbath practice. Check back on the next two Mondays to read the rest of Dianne’s thoughts on this important topic.

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Now this idea of observing a “stop day” isn’t a new one.  It was thought of long before any of us were.  We find it in the biblical concept of Sabbath-keeping.  I love the way that Exodus 20:8 gives us this command: “Remember the Sabbath Day and Keep it Holy.”  Dr. Matthew Sleeth speaks of this.  He says “In the beginning of time, God created for 6 days and what did God do on the 7th day?  He rested.  God created the world and said it was good.  God created humans and he said they were very good.  God created the Sabbath and he said it was holy.” 

8537281481_7aeec88600_hThe Sabbath was something that God created, observed, and modeled for us, not because God needed it, but because God knew we needed it.  That’s why God provided it for us as a gift,  blessed it for us, and made it holy.  Sabbath was all about helping the Hebrew people to establish rhythms for life that would sustain them.  Their identity was shaped by embracing God’s rhythm of working for 6 days and resting on the 7th day, letting it be a day of solemn rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord.  The Hebrew people were no different than we are, they didn’t think they could take a day free from work and still get everything done.  Moses encouraged them to trust that God would take care of their needs.  With baby steps, they learned how to cease from their labors, how to enter Sabbath- rest.  Developing this pattern in their lives involved a radical re-ordering of their priorities.

Do we think we’ve evolved beyond needing this rhythm that God created for the people?  If we are honest, we’ll admit that we need this radical re-ordering of our priorities, now more than ever.  The business, the hurry, the overload of our lives is so much less than what God wants for us.  We’ve been missing out on the pace of a Sabbath day for a long time, on experiencing a rhythm that includes stopping, slowing, and resting.  Can you imagine what this might look like, feel like, and mean to our lives to have a day every week for Sabbath-rest?

So, maybe for pastors Sunday can’t be our Sabbath.  We can certainly claim this kind of a day on another day of the week, can’t we?  I believe Sabbath-rest can be a reality for us, if we recognize the need for it, and create space in our lives for it.  Maybe we, like the Hebrews, could simply take a baby step today by embracing even just an hour of true Sabbath time.

May God guide us as we seek to recover this precious gem that has been lost, so that we can experience a new rhythm of life that includes holy rest.  With a deep breath, a prayer intention, and willing trust in God to provide for our needs, let us begin to reclaim the gift of Sabbath-rest.

–Dianne Lawhorn

DianneDianne is currently the Minister of Spiritual Formation for the Lydia Group which is a resource for spiritual wholeness offering formational teaching, retreat leadership, and spiritual direction.

Image from Flickr user Grand Canyon NPS, via Creative Commons.

Do You Need A New Rhythm? ~ Part I

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This is the first in a special series on Sabbath by guest blogger Rev. Dianne Lawhorn. We offer these reflections in the hope that over the next few weeks you will feel invited to deepen your own Sabbath practice. Check back on the next three Mondays to read Dianne’s thoughts on this important topic. 

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Boy and Girl Running in Tall Grass

I led a workshop recently at our Annual Conference on the concept of Sabbath.  During this workshop, I asked participants to reach back into their memories and recall how they spent Sunday afternoons as a child.  I could immediately see smiles and the look of wonder on people’s faces.  It was as if the sweet aroma of a day when things seemed so much simpler swept across the room.  Then, I asked the group to share with a neighbor about those memories.  I looked around the room and heard people speaking of wonderful meals, time with family, taking long naps, and catching lightning bugs!  I noticed less about what they said and more about the way that they said it.  Their pace had changed, they had slowed down, and there was a peacefulness about their sharing.  Were these folks really speaking of having a day where they slowed down long enough to enjoy a meal, to take a nap, or to catch a lightning bug?

It was a beautiful moment where the whole mood in the room shifted and we were ready to hear about Sabbath- rest.  Sunday afternoons used to be a time for us to do things that we enjoyed, to relax, to rest.  It was unhurried and leisurely and it didn’t feel at all like work.  Times have changed, haven’t they?  Now, our Sundays are really no different than any other day of the week.    They are too full, too busy, harried even.  Our Sundays are often a catch up day where we rush around trying to get everything done that wasn’t done during the week.  Sunday isn’t a day of leisure anymore.

There is something sacred about the way that we used to spend our Sabbath days.  This slower pace was good for us.  This is something we have lost and I believe that it needs to be re-claimed.  This is something we need, a pause in the pace of our busy lives.  We need a day where our schedule doesn’t get inundated with work, a day to take a break from that endless hamster’s wheel of activity.  We need a day of leisure, a lazy day, a day to slow down and enjoy the wonderful gifts that God has given us.

246covercroppedDr. Matthew Sleeth, author of the book 24-6, says that what we need most is a “stop day,” a day to stop working, a day of rest.  This stop is the thing that is missing from our lives.  Reclaiming this stop is a great way for us to think about Sabbath-Rest.   Doesn’t the idea of a stop day sound good to us?  Don’t we need a day that calls us back into a rhythm that includes stopping, slowing, and resting?  Don’t we need a day to cease from our labors?  Doesn’t this feel like a gift that we’ve lost that needs to be reclaimed?   …To be continued Monday, Nov. 4th.

–Rev. Dianne Lawhorn, MDiv

DianneDianne is currently the Minister of Spiritual Formation for the Lydia Group which is a resource for spiritual wholeness offering formational teaching, retreat leadership, and spiritual direction.

 

How Geometry, Acne, and Loneliness Gave Me an Appreciation for Snail Mail

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LockersI went to a tiny middle school and a massive high school. We’re talking 24 kids at my 8th grade graduation and then… BAM… 620 on the first day of 9th grade come summer’s end. I knew three people in my grade. A building constructed to house 1500 students was brimming with about 1800. I was an outsider in a sea of kids who had been in school together since kindergarten. Seniors stood against the walls to block freshmen from navigating their way to Geometry or World History. I was (seriously) in need of something to be happy about and I was pretty darn sure it couldn’t be found inside the walls of my high school.

Thankfully all of us are past the rough early days of high school, winding through mazes of hallways and trying to make friends, but I still have days or stages in life that don’t feel too far removed from the feelings of frustration, anxiety, or even despair that swept over me when I realized I was on the opposite side of the building, on the wrong floor, and completely alone, looking for Freshman gym class.

My one moment of respite each day came after lunch. I would leave lunch a little early to make sure I could get to my next class before the crowds began their tidal wave through the halls. This meant that I had a few merciful moments of peace in the hallway before 5th period. It was in one of moments that I saw it – a poster – on the AP European History teacher’s door: Things To Be Happy About.

“Perfectly toasted golden marshmellows”

“Fuzzy socks”

“A new toenail polish color”

“Snail mail”

You’re starting to get the picture, I’m sure. The little things. The little things that seemed completely insignificant in the face of hallway confusion, constant strange faces, loneliness, and feeling generally overwhelming. Nevertheless, those things, and others, were worth being happy about. The poster was right.

As I started to make some friends, I began to share my discovery with them. By the end of the year, there was a little crowd outside of that door every afternoon before 5th period, scrolling through the long list, shouting out their favorites.

“The sound a new can of tennis balls makes when you first pop off the lid!”

“Milkshakes for breakfast!”

“Old people holding hands!”

Book CoverOne of my friends, who is now a teacher, keeps the spin-off book, 14,000 Things To Be Happy About, on a table in her classroom. Another made a customized list for a friend’s birthday recently. You can even click here for today’s list.

What’s on your list? How can you remind yourself about the little things to be happy about, even when there are 1,797 unfamiliar, pimply, sometimes-smelly, and maybe-exclusive teenagers threatening to sweep you off your feet and carry you down the hallway?

– Ellie Poole