Practicing Mindfulness and Gratitude

Practicing mindfulness and gratitude

Mindlessly, I flip through my most-frequented apps. I check to see what new kids’ clothes I’ve sold on Kidizen. I pop between my Zillow and Trulia real estate apps just for fun — are any good properties for sale in our town? We’d love to downsize and simplify a few things. I check my monthly sales total on my Teachers Pay Teachers app and calculate my goal progress for the month, right on track to surpass my April goals. I open Instagram to whichever of my accounts is logged in and then toggle between the three of them. Without thinking, I open TpT again, only to realize that I just checked that app a minute before. I set my phone down and exhale. My toddler picks it up and hands it back to me, as if it should be a permanent extension of my left hand. He’s so accustomed to seeing it there. I place my phone under the cushion of the outdoor patio furniture behind me and reach for the other things I brought outside with me on this gorgeous spring day — my leather-bound journal, my Bible, and a book, “Not the Boss of Us.”

I read a few paragraphs from Kay Wills Wyma’s newest book and look up, pausing to really take in my own backyard. We’ve lived here two years now and are reaping the benefits of the landscaping put in by the prior owners. The first thing I noticed was the wide-open sky. It reminded me of my honeymoon in Montana, aptly-named “Big Sky Country.”

I’m praying about a lot of things these days. God has been placed a calling on my heart that I can’t quite comprehend without having to unravel a lot of other things. I’m not sure what to do. I want to be obedient, and I’ve been praying for over a year now. It’s hard to not wonder, worry, and try to take control.  I take a break from my futile attempts to play out every possible scenario in my head.

I look around my backyard, practicing a mindfulness exercise I teach my elementary students regularly: Notice five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can touch, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.

It’s an exercise in grounding oneself when thoughts are racing, whether from anxiety or the general overwhelm life so often seems to spiral within us.

I record a few of my observations in my notebook. Later, I’d transfer them to Instagram to steward my words in case they can bless someone else.

  • I see: my toddler eating a lollipop and playing with his fairy garden, my breastmilk ring and all that it symbolizes to me, my neighbor’s dogwood tree, and tall grasses waving in the wind way up on the hill behind my house.
  • I hear: songbirds, trees rustling, far-off train, wind chimes.
  • I smell: familiar scents of springtime and new mulch that remind me of childhood and home.

I also note what I would have missed by staying inside today, on this gorgeous 70-degree spring day: my new neighbor painting a canvas on her patio, wind chimes, the baby figuring out the swing, the way our trees throw twinkling shadows on freshly-cut grass.

My gratitude list:
1. The baby all to myself this weekend while the big kids are camping with daddy
2. Pink dogwood in bloom
3. A fragrant backyard
4. Gentle breeze
5. Everything we need
6. Vacation one month away
7. Chorus of birds outside
8. Good friends
9. Summer within reach

Recently I spent several nights away from home, traveling solo to a conference. I knew, going into it, I would have a chance to meet one of the most famous authors in my profession and ask her my questions about the next steps in publishing my first children’s book. I didn’t know, though, that her keynote would resonate so much with me that I’d spend the next several weeks contemplating hope and its role in combating anxiety and depression. I wondered how I could use the information to help my families at school.

During her keynote, we watched this powerful video by Nature Valley. I’m glad I grew up in a generation when playing outside and interacting with the world around me was natural and expected. Now it seems like going outside has to be intentional. Meanwhile, our fixation with technology seems to be stripping us of hope.

I watch my toddler playing in the fairy garden. “Fade-ees! Fade-ees!” he squeals in delight as he moves the small plastic fairies around the miniature garden we made last summer in a large ceramic planter on our deck. Without his brothers here, he has his pick of any fairy he wants, and he clutches all of them in his tiny fists. He drops one, and it rolls under the woven ottoman. He points up to the playground we built up on our hill and asks, in his words, to go play in the mud kitchen.

“You can go up there,” I encourage him, easing back onto the couch and reaching for my Bible and notebook.

“No. Mommy come,” he demands. I put my books down, thinking longingly of the quiet time I’m so desperate for, but I follow him up the hill and watch as giddily he transfers measuring cups’ full of muddy water back and forth from the 99-cent Goodwill cupcake pans to the matching pans in the sink. A little mulch drips down the front of his striped romper and he is concerned for just a moment, then returns his attention to the cakes he is making me. I notice the blue handprint painted near the sink, the pink dogwood blossoms near the swings and peer through the lilac bush, its blossoms already dropping in the short-lived Virginia spring. If it hadn’t come up here, I might have missed them entirely. I watch my neighbor mow her lawn, amazed at the checkerboard pattern she seems to so effortlessly create every single time. I appreciate whoever hung wind chimes far enough away that I can enjoy them without interrupting sleep over them.

These grounding exercises lead me to a conversation with our Creator that only He can orchestrate. The feels of the breeze against my face slows my own racing thoughts of what I could be doing right now to prepare for the workweek ahead and the rest of my family’s return from their camping trip. The scent of lilac brings me back to the present moment. God has called me to notice this very scene before me. “Truth,” Wyma writes, “Truth that tomorrow’s worries and yesterday’s happenings don’t get to overinform or steal from today.” My two-year-old has not a care in the world as he enjoys his red lollipop and sloshes water around the mud kitchen we fashioned from a yard sale kitchen sink, old wooden pallets, some extra boards, and a corrugated steel roof. It is their favorite activity, and all three of my boys still fit side-by-side in front of the sink. Just as spring will segue silently into summer, there will come a time when they won’t be able to all fit across, forming and serving mud cakes together. And so I’ll soak it up now, instead of looking ahead to the next thing, the next house, the big picture. God is calling me to see this very moment before me before my littlest toddles back inside the house to snuggle against me for a nap. Laundry and packing lunches and Friday folders from school can wait a little longer.

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:26, NIV).

Great references for getting outside with kids:

  • “There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather” by Linda Akeson McQurk
  • “Free Range Kids” by Lenore Skenazy
  • “Last Child in the Woods” by Richard Louv 

More of my thoughts on mindfulness:

 

Navigating the Messy Middle

this tension -- wanting to pursue my calling, but having to surrender something else in order to do so.

Do you ever feel restless to move?

Is it to a new home? A new job? A new city or town? Do you need a mindset shift? A new perspective? A new workout routine?

Who is moving? Is it you who needs to move, or is time to finally acknowledge that God is moving in your life, making big changes and offering to shoulder your insecurities and self-doubts?

Perhaps my word “move” for the year is drawing me from my own sense of security and allowing Him to move within me.

God,

You filled me with awe in worship this week. I want to surrender to your call, but I fear losing the security I’ve worked for. Some people earn degrees and never fully use them in the field they intended; I fear stopping too early. I know I can use my education moving forward, regardless of what I do, my knowledge and experiences will alway be a part of me. God, why am I put in this tension — wanting to pursue my calling, but having to surrender something else in order to do so. It feels like I have to let go of one thing to switch to another, letting go of one trapeze and trusting that I’ll catch the next — and I’m afraid of flying. I want to serve more fully with the gifts you’ve laid upon me. I am in the mess of this tension every day and I do feel anxious and restless about it. I don’t have time to myself to devote long stretches to what I love doing. I can’t even schedule time and guard it — I have three small boys and a full-time job! I have to accept time where it comes organically, and that unpredictability is stressful for me. I can’t be creative on a schedule, anyway. When the mood strikes, I might be nursing a tiny human on my lap or teaching a class at school. I may wake up early, and my kids wake up minutes later. I know you will make a way because it is your will for me, I’ve seen you do it over the past year as you’ve opened many doors for me (and closed even more), and I am so thankful for all of it. Amen.

Right now I feel like I’ve found a “partial solution,” as Tsh Oxenreider calls it, but I also feel like I can only commit partially, even though I want to give my all–thus the tension I’m constantly mulling over in the back of my mind. My pastor recently encouraged us to ask ourselves how we can lean on our church to pursue God’s call.

This is probably one of the hardest parts for me. It isn’t that I intentionally put walls up. It’s just my personality makes it difficult for me to process things out loud with others — I process quietly –internally– and usually through writing. Inviting someone into my mess means attempting to sort through jumbled thoughts before I’ve had a chance to make any sort sense of them. As my uncle says, I’ve always held my cards very close to my chest, and I’ll admit to this. It has always made it harder for me to ask for help and it makes people assume things come easily for me, which drives me crazy because it couldn’t be further from the truth. Usually by the time I share something, I’ve had quite a bit of time to pray over it and wrestle with it, and I’d rather just share things with a few close friends, anyway.

Jennie Allen writes, “Because he didn’t call us to something alone. He carries the yoke for us, so we can run with power” (Restless, p. 147). When I am not ready to invite others in to the mess (even though I know I need to, that vulnerability fosters connections and relationships), I know that I can count on God to meet me, already knowing the details of my mess, reassuring me that He also knows how it will all unfold.

So for now, I’ll continue to pray through this messy middle and try to encourage others to join me in this tension.

For more reflections on my one word for 2019, “move,” check out my two previous posts:

My One Word for 2019: Move

Knowing How to Step Out in Faith

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Knowing How to Step Out in Faith

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When my husband and I were first interested in getting a Prius for our new family vehicle, suddenly, they were everywhere.

Every time I was pregnant, or wanted to be, or had just miscarried a precious life, it seemed like there were pregnant women everywhere.

With blinders on, with intense focus on something, we tend to notice it more.

Only two months into 2019, I see and hear the word “move” everywhere– in books, music, scripture, sermons, and podcasts. I know in part, it’s because it’s the word I’ve chosen to pray over and reflect upon this year. But I also know God placed this word on my heart in the same way that He has placed a calling in my heart and His Spirit in my soul to tend it, and He is continuing to encourage me by revealing a deeper study of what it means to really move toward Him.

My journal lately is starting to sound like a broken record as I continue to revisit the same tensions in my quiet time. I may not have my own expectations for exactly what “move” will mean for me this year, but I also know that my wonder and unknowing is what will stir me to lean on Him for direction.

In Restless: Because you were made for more, Jennie Allen writes about God moving to meet us, willing to meet us as far as we jump, multiplying what we give Him as He did with the loaves and fishes. (This also reminded me of a beautiful essay written by my dear friend Christina, “He Makes Much Out of Little.”)

How can I serve the community where I am right now? How can I stop trying to guard the security I’ve come to know in order to step out in faith?

Lord,

Thank you for the gift of time You provide for me to listen. Thank you for where I am right now and being willing to move to meet me, whether I stay or go, whether I give a little or give much. I know you will take what I can offer. Help me to see where I can serve right now. Help me to share my gifts in the places where you’ve intentionally placed me right now, instead of always questioning whether I’m in the right place. I can serve my community right here. Thank you for this renewed perspective and mindset shift. I can look at where I am though the lens of gratitude and service. Amen. 

If you ever feel guilty for just craving alone time to indulge in self-care and uninterrupted reflection on pursuing the next steps God is calling you toward, I’d be honored if you’d head over to Kindred Mom to read my essay published on Kindred Mom this week, Seeking Solitude in the Midst of Motherhood.

For more thoughts on my one word for 2019, “move,” you can find my recent essay one post back.

 

 

My One Word for 2019: Move

png (1).pngA recurring respite awaits me, unassuming, in the middle of my week. I didn’t find it until this past fall, when my son began piano lessons. The cozy den where I wait during his lesson is warm and inviting, the L-shaped sectional welcoming me back week after week. Worship music plays from a small boombox on the bottom shelf of a curated bookcase of Bibles and devotionals. A soothing candle is usually nestled onto the farmhouse coffee table, but today in its place squatted a small jar of Hershey Kisses, some last remnants of the holidays. I’ve joked with my son’s piano teacher that I would pay her the same amount she charges per lesson in exchange for the solitude of this room for 30 minutes a week, even if there was no lesson.

As the lesson began over in the music room, I thought about the rhythm I’ve created for this quiet time. I had gotten into a pattern of fitting writing and silent worship into these 30 minutes, but today I thought I might be too nervous to write as I carefully poured over some notes instead, notes I’ve been preparing for months for an interview tomorrow.

Somewhere between the steady beat of the worship music, flipping through my notes, and the labored piano notes of my six-year-old’s lesson on the other side of the wall, I found myself overcome, succumbing instead to prayer. Had there been room, I might have even dropped to my knees, but the couch afforded plenty of space to feel His presence.

I felt gripped, tethered on a fast-moving train, the pull of God’s call almost dizzying me even as I tried to sort out the scenery rushing past, everything I’ve ever done in my life leading up this moment, this new track being laid out before me. I pray for this door to be opened, that tomorrow will shed clarity onto the blur of the track before me.

My word for 2019 is “move.” God gifted me this word to steward and then pulled me along when I was least expecting it tonight. I have a lot of ideas of what “move” could mean for me this year, and I will continue to pray that God will guide me toward where He’s calling me with this word.

I should have known God would meet me here, as He does week after week.

Only this time, there was chocolate.

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Did you pray for a word this year? I’d love for you to share your word below.

 

Releasing Worry Over Circumstances We Cannot Control

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I needed a release more than I knew. I realized it today in a small 4′ x 4′ dressing room on the second floor of the hospital, where my trembling arms cinched the ties of a deep pink hospital shirt, the color of hope. The color of strength. The color of fear.

My shaking hand signed the paperwork minutes before. My stint in the waiting room wasn’t long enough, much preferring to be there over learning of any new news back in the exam room. Older women sitting around me complained of their grown children’s entitlement at holidays, but all I could hear was their bitterness. I wondered if this was how they avoided bigger worries, the sort that brought them to this particular waiting room on the second floor of the hospital, here in the cancer center.

Someone outside my dressing room talked about her breast cancer diagnosis at 35. A concerned nurse asked me if my doctor talked to me about early mammograms. I wondered if she knew something I didn’t, if her question was actually a suggestion, though my insurance policy doesn’t agree.

“Hop up on the stretcher here,” the tech instructed as we entered the tiny exam room. Her tone was warm. I recognized her from every other time I’ve been here and was relieved that I wouldn’t be going through this ultrasound alone.

Lying on my back, I breathed slowly and methodically. In this supine position, the tears could only pool unless I allowed myself to release them. I counted tiles– six across, six down. Another square room, this whole place just a grid within the hospital, with all news delivered in the style of Russian roulette.

The news came quickly. The tumor had disappeared in a year’s time. At the sight of my tears, my tech was quick to reassure me that although it might have just shrunk, it would never turn into cancer. She didn’t actually use that formidable word, she strategically used the word “anything.” I knew what she implied. She made a few jokes trying to ease the burden of my spilling tears. She assumed they came from a place of relief for the good news, and I suppose they did. I had kept them at bay, all the worry I hadn’t allowed myself to dwell on in the midst of holiday busyness, work obligations, and all that accompanies motherhood. I hadn’t allowed myself to think about it for 367 days, the span since the last time I was here.

But this release would have come regardless of whether the news was good or bad. All the worry my body had been carrying gave way in the knowing. This news meant that I could still nurse my baby, that my own body had not betrayed me. In those short moments before the doctor walked in, I had finally allowed myself to consider every possible scenario, and I was scared.

I looked at the ultrasound and thought what a slap in the face it is that ultrasounds can be used to deliver both good news and heartache. It was an ultrasound that first informed me that I had lost my first pregnancy. Other ultrasounds allowed me to see healthy, growing baby boys. And this very wand would detect a tumor and then, a year later, lose track of it.

“One act of thanksgiving made when things go wrong is worth a thousand when things go well.” – John the Cross as quoted by Madeleine L’Engle in “Walking on Water,” 156.

Back in my car, my head throbbed. My heart ached despite the best news I could have gotten today, and for that news, I am so thankful. I’m grateful for my doctor and tech with wonderful bedside manner. I can only imagine them having to sit alongside women going through so much more than I’ve had to go through, reassuring women with much bigger fears and problems than I have. But they also made me feel as if my concern was not insignificant. It wasn’t unnoticed. And it was unfair and worrisome. It’s my burden to deal with, but ultimately it’s not my burden to carry.

It has always, always been God’s burden. It was there in God’s hands before I ever noticed it. and He will keep his hand on it even when technology can’t find it.

In an hour, it was all over. Suddenly, I’m desperate to get home to coffee and warmth and to get out of this cold December rain. Carrying an umbrella through the cancer center parking lot on the way in felt ridiculous; raindrops were the least of my concerns. But gripping that umbrella was within the realm of my control when everything else was not.

Today I expected to wake up and wrap presents all day. Instead, I spent the morning in much-needed prayer, filled with both worship and worry. I overheard my six-year-old explaining to my four-year-old why I had to go to the hospital this morning, that I have bumps near my milk that I have to get checked. That was the best way I could explain it to him so that he wouldn’t worry but also know that this was something important for mommy to get checked out, so that one day when he’s a dad, he can support his wife if she ever has to go through this. Or hold his own daughter’s hand and let her know that she’s not alone even when it feels that way. That God is always with her and that she is always, always prayed over. God will hold onto our worries until we are ready to release them completely.