Tag Archives: self-care

Jesus and the Stewardship of Self

Cross and Starfish

It’s tough to be good stewards of our time, our relationships, and our finite resources. I’ve been reflecting on this topic a lot lately, especially in light of the wonderful Rostered Leaders Wellness Retreat our Lower Susquehanna Synod hosted with support from Portico Benefits (our insurer), Thrivent Financial, and Lutheran World Relief.

We spent a wonderful two days at the Hershey Hotel with wonderful food, great collegiality, worship, Bible study, and time for yoga, meditation, and financial stewardship workshops. We were also treated to chair massages and a prayer labyrinth. Just having time to see colleagues from all parts of our synod and to treat ourselves to a lovely setting that most of us would never consider going otherwise was a lavish gift.

Even better, our keynote presenter, Dr. Mike Brown, explained healthy living through a heart healthy diet and exercise. His presentation was fun, engaging, and humorous. My husband and I have  been comparing labels ever since and are committed to being attentive to “what goes in our mouth and what we do with our feet.”

Here’s a link to the reflection I wrote this week on the Narrative Lectionary reading for February 8, 2014, posted on the Stewardship of Life Institute website. Seems our Lord Jesus Christ knew a lot about health and wellness and provides a wonderful model for stewardship of self. Thank you, Jesus!

On the Thin Edge of Health

With Lent has come a busier schedule both in my ministry and in teaching two online writing classes. Of course, to top it all off, both my dear spouse and I have found ourselves on the thin edge of health, fighting sinus infections that haven’t become full-blown but that are hanging on with annoying tenacity. Because of this lingering malaise, I did not post any entries last week, and I am sorry.

Good health is important, and Lent is a good time to think about health. Our bodies are made to sustain themselves when we eat well, drink plenty of water, exercise, and get sufficient rest. It’s the times when life becomes too hectic and we make compromises that dis-ease can set it. For me, a sinus infection is my body’s reminder that I am not taking care of myself, and I had better slow down.

I’ve kept exercising, albeit gently with yoga. I’ve indulged in a few much -needed naps, and I am eating simply and well. Hopefully, I’ll be back on solid health footing soon.

How about you? How are you tending to your health and wellness in the midst of wild weather swings, a glut of germs to share, and busy lives?

Photo by Hamron. Thanks!

Cobbled Hearts

Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. Joel 2:12-13

I have a favorite pair of winter boots. My cousin gave them to me for Christmas almost a decade ago, and they’re wonderful, waterproof and classics from L. L. Bean. They have spent considerable time in various cobbler shops in North Dakota and Pennsylvania, and each time I retrieve them, I am rewarded with good fitting, attractive footwear for a fraction of the cost of replacing them. I take them in, scuffed and sad with broken down heels, and pick them up shiny and fresh and ready to go. It’s a good use of resources in the “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without” spirit of thrift and frugality. When I first slip my renewed footwear back on, I am reminded of how God renews us.

The passage above, taken from the Ash Wednesday lectionary, always moves me. The entire lesson, Joel 2:1-2, 12-17, is a call for communal lament and a reminder that no matter how we mess up, God is faithful and just. God is always there to pick up the pieces of our broken hearts and tattered lives, to make of us something new and beautiful in spite of our bruises and cracks.

But what God looks for is not the outward shows of religiosity but the lament of a broken and contrite heart. The Creator of the Universe is good at fixing what we break, even (or maybe especially) when that which is broken is our own self.

We humans are good at messing up, at hurting one another, and at causing others pain. We do it knowingly and we do it unwittingly. We hurt with our careless words, our thoughtless consumption, and our selfish fears and vitriol. We curve inward upon ourselves as the Apostle Paul lamented in Romans 7:

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin. (Romans 7:15-25)

Augustine of Hippo described this tendency as “Incurvatus in se” or the notion of living life inwardly for self rather than outwardly for God and others. Martin Luther took this concept further in his Lectures on Romans, saying

Our nature, by the corruption of the first sin, [being] so deeply curved in on itself that it not only bends the best gifts of God towards itself and enjoys them (as is plain in the works-righteous and hypocrites), or rather even uses God himself in order to attain these gifts, but it also fails to realize that it so wickedly, curvedly, and viciously seeks all things, even God, for its own sake. (Luther’s Works, Volume 25)

While we try to patch together our broken hearts with the duct tape, chewing gum, and spit of this world and all its empty promises, going on as if nothing at all is wrong with us, God invites us to bring the broken pieces of our deepest hurts, our dreams denied, and our shattered faith. Nothing is beyond fixing in the master crafter’s hands.

We will never be perfect–at least not in this life–but when we rend our hearts and return the pieces to God we will be repaired, refitted, and made new. Even with cracks, crazing, and chips we are better versions of ourselves in the hands of the Divine One.

This Lent, instead of trying to hold your hurting life together on your own, instead of facing the world with the lie of a brave face and an independent, untouchable spirit, return your rent, spent, and damaged self to your Creator and be renewed.

Thanksliving Activity

Find something in your house that you’ve been meaning to repair but have instead shoved deeper into a cabinet or closet. Pull it out, examine it, and figure out a way to fix it. If you can’t fix it yourself, take it to someone who can. Give that item a second chance at a worthwhile life and reflect on how God does the same thing with you–over and over again.

Photos by CarbonNYC, flicktone, and SanFranAnnie. Thanks!

Laugh! It’s Good for You.

Mirth is God’s medicine. Everybody ought to bathe in it. ~Henry Ward Beecher

(Note: This is the second installment in a series about how to really live life and live it well.)

Want to really live life? If you do, then make sure you laugh on a daily basis. Not only will you feel better and experience life as more positive, you may actually help your health.

A study at the University of Maryland Medical Center, led by Dr. Michael Miller, studied the humor responses of 300 subjects and found that indeed, there may be a real connection between frequent laughter and reduced risk of heart attack. Click here to read more about the study. Miller and his colleagues suggest looking at incorporating laughter into one’s life in the same way one would include a healthy diet and exercise.

What soap is to the body, laughter is to the soul. ~Yiddish Proverb

How about combining exercise and laughter into one healthy activity? Check out laughter yoga as a possibility. This practice combines unconditional laughter with yogic breathing (pranayama). It was the brainchild of an Indian physician, Dr. Madan Kataria and has grown to more than 8.000 laughter clubs in 65 countries. Click here and here for more information. Laughter yoga combines exercise, breathing, joy, and community into one healthy and affirming activity. According to the American School of Laughter Yoga, not only will practitioners see health benefits, but work productivity may increase by up to 31% Clearly, research shows we need to infuse our schools, our workplaces, our homes, and our faith communities with more laughter and joy.

Seven days without laughter makes one weak. ~Mort Walker

The photo above is a close-up of the artist Yue Minjun’s wonderful installation “Amazing Laughter” in Vancouver, British Columbia. You can read more about the artist and the sculpture here. Seeing these laughing figures, all of whom bear the artist’s face, makes one want to smile–or laugh. Look for art, for music, for theatre, film, and television that make you laugh, and incorporate some healthy laughter into every day of your life. Commit to trying it for at least 40 days, and keep a record of your progress and experience. I am certain you’ll find yourself stronger, more centered, and possessing a much more positive outlook on life. Go ahead…try it! What do you have to lose?

Now just why did the chicken cross the road? Maybe it was to listen to some fowl jokes.

Photos by Jeff Halllululemonathletica, and Matthew Grapengieser. Thanks!

How to Really Live

People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences will have resonances with our own innermost being, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive. — Joseph Campbell

Note: This post is the first in a series. Each day will feature one observation about and a suggestion for how to really live your life, how to engage yourself fully in the act of being alive.

What’s it all about, this life we live? Do you ever slow down long enough to wonder about the meaning of life? Maybe you are too busy living–earning a living, running taxi for children or grandchildren, or caring for aging parents, trying to keep your head above the waters of financial ruin–to even care about deeper meaning.

The first step to really living your life is to quit kidding yourself about how much life you have left to live. The only moment each one of us is promised is the present one. You may live to be a hundred or you may die tomorrow, but the only moment in which you are truly alive is this one–right here, right now.

Close your eyes. Take a slow, deep breath, inhaling through your nose. Hold it lightly for a short interval. Now breath out gently but fully through your nose, emptying your lungs deeply from your gut upward.  While you are enjoying this solitary breath, give thanks for it and for your precious gift of life.

What a miracle you are! That single breath you just honored is one of some 17,000 that you will take in one 24-hour period. Your heart will beat, without any help from you, more than 100,000 times each day. You make thousands of decisions each day, both great and small, conscious and unconscious. You are an amazing creation, one that the Creator of the Cosmos called very, very good.

The first step to really living your life is make a conscious choice to live more fully in the present moment. Yes, some things must be planned and arranged and done, but if you find yourself always looking backward at the way things were or planning for a future over which you have no control–just stop.

Take another one of those single, thankful breaths and come back to the present moment.

  • Love the people you love. I mean really love them and tell them so. Spend time with them if you can.
  • Do something fun or silly. Celebrate and laugh every single day. Laughter is good medicine and will cure a host of maladies.
  • Leave your work behind (at least for a little while)
  • Be active. Take a walk, ride your bike, dance, swim, hike, or do yoga.
  • Eat well and mindfully. Sit down at the table. Light a candle.
  • Rest

Whenever cares and worries threaten to carry you away into moments past or futures unknown, will yourself back to the present moment and day. Live it well. It is gift, pure gift.

Remember the words of Jesus from Matthew’s gospel:

So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today. (6:34)

Whatever your situation, remember that life is fleeting in the grand scheme of the universe. We’re only on this earth for a short time. No trouble, worry, or distraction is worth depriving you or others of the privilege of living right now.

Blessings on your precious life here and now!

A Lagniappe:

Enjoy this You-Tube version of Burt Bacharach’s song “Alfie” sung by the incomparable Rumer.

Photo by OutdoorLori. Thanks!

Time to Take Care of YOU

One might assume that because the United States spends more on health care than any other nation ($4,500 per person in 2000) Americans should also be the healthiest folks on the planet. Unfortunately, according to the UC Atlas of Global Inequality, that is far from the truth. In terms of life expectancy, the U.S. ranks 27th (77 years). An even more alarming trend is a 30-year pattern of decreased life expectancy, a high infant mortality rate, and the reality that U.S. youth have the “highest rates of sexually transmitted diseases, teen pregnancy and deaths from car crashes” among 17 developed countries studied in a recent report produced by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council.

An article by Sabrina Tavernise in the January 9, 2013 edition of The New York Times summarized the report’s distrubing findings. Particularly troubling are the findings that Americans under 50 had a higher mortality rate from gun-related homicide, drug and alcohol abuse, and car accidents than any of their counterparts in the other countries studied. We also posted the second highest rate of death from heart disease and lung disease.

Despite our many strengths as a nation, the United States also has the highest rate of poverty among the 17 developed nations in the study, limited  primary care resources in a fragmented healthcare system, and a high percentage of uninsured citizens. Cuba, despite its many economic challenges and limited resources, has made healthcare a priority. The country has a universal healthcare system and one of the world’s highest doctor-to-patient ratios. The average per person healthcare expenditure in Cuba is a mere $186 or about 1/25 of per person spending in the United States. Cuba comes in just behind the United States at 28th in terms of life expectancy (76.9 years compared to the U.S.’s 77 years). Go figure.

The bottom line is that YOU are responsible for your health. No one is going to force you to be healthy or to make good choices. Some health issues bear no relation to lifestyle, but most of the truly pressing health issues in the United States are indeed related to lifestyle, income, and education. The playing field is not a level one, but we make it even less level through choice and public policy.

Controversial filmmaker and best-selling author Michael Moore made the simple choice to start walking 30 minutes each day. As Moore notes, it’s free and it feels good. Don’t stop there! You can bypass the cigarettes and save money. You can cut out the sodas and drink water or green tea. You can brew your own coffee at home and moderate your alcohol intake. You can prepare simple, fresh foods and cut out the highly-processed junk. If you don’t know how to cook, you can learn.

No one is asking you to make a 180 degree change in how you live overnight–although if that’s how you work, go for it! Try to change one thing and see where it goes. Don’t go out and get an expensive gym membership; take that walk around the neighborhood. If you hate going outside, turn on a music channel and dance like a fool where no one can see you. Instead of driving eight blocks to the post office, walk there. Plant a garden. Get enough sleep. Drink enough water. Play ball with your kids. Walk through your neighborhood and get to know folks. Just do something.

Don’t wait for a better or more convenient day. Get started right now. It’s time to take care of YOU because YOU are worth it!

Photo by Green_Mamba. Thanks!

Embracing Mystery

To see a world in a grain of sand,

And a heaven in a wild flower,

Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,

And eternity in an hour.

– William Blake

I enjoy spending time around children because they remind me of how to live each moment fully, how to examine the world with eyes of love and wonder, and how to embrace mystery as a natural part of what it means to be alive. Somehow, between childhood and adulthood, we manage to squelch this wonderful approach to living and replace it with something far less satisfying, what we term “realistic” and “appropriate” and “logical.”

Somehow along the way we build fences, construct walls, and organize life into neat categories of black and white, right and wrong, in and out, cool and uncool. Because of our human desire to “know” and control our life and destiny, we strive for certainty and mastery. We seek to acquire and cling to rather than experience and ponder. In the process, largely unintentionally, we lose our ability to embrace the mystery of the universe.

Have you ever watched a child experience the natural world? Have you seen how each flower is its own universe to be explored, how every bird and animal is marvelous and wonderful to behold? Remember how mud puddles are for jumping in–not avoided–and garden hoses are destined to be fountains rather than simply conduits for H2O? Little children don’t watch clocks. They don’t hurry past when something catches their fancy. They are honest and inquisitive and, well, real.

Children not only accept mystery, they embrace and are enthralled by it. Mystery and wonder are partners in living. Once upon a time signals a story worth listening to, and music is made to inspire a silly whirl of a dance. A child sees no reason to argue about whether the world was created in seventy days or seventy million days. The world was created, and it’s really cool; that’s what matters.

What would it take for you to recapture and embrace the mystery of life in this new year? Is it possible for you to take off your watch, shut off your cell phone, put on some music and dance like a kindergartner until you fall down exhausted? Can you spare an hour to walk in the woods, to taste snowflakes, and yes, to stomp in a puddle? Will you treasure and ponder the mystery that you are, the gift of life that the Creator has given you, and the wonders and delights of this beautiful world? I hope you will. I pray you will.

We wake, if ever at all, to mystery. — Annie Dillard

Photos by AlicePopkorn and vastateparksstaff. Thanks!

Don’t Worry…Be Grateful!

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? — Matthew 6:25-26 (NRSV)

Yesterday I wrote about fear and how it can prevent one from living a life of joy and thanks-living. Today I want to address one of fear’s first cousins–worry. Fear and worry like to hang out together. There’s safety in numbers and misery, too.

Worry prevents a person from fully enjoying and embracing life. This emotion refuses to live in the present. While it rarely dwells long in the past, it looks to the future with an anxious eye and hesitant air. Worry’s favorite words are “What if…?” It loves to ask questions like “What if there’s not enough money?” and “What if I lose my job?” or “What if I get really sick?” or even “What if the sky falls tomorrow?”

Unless you’re closely related to Chicken Little, you have no business embracing worry as a bosom buddy or “kissin’ cousin.” Throw worry right out the door. NOW! Worry does not have your best interests at heart and certainly doesn’t want you to live joyfully and thankfully in the present moment.

Worrying about the future will not likely change anything; instead, you’ll only miss or fail to enjoy the present. And let’s face it folks; the present moment is the only one we have control over.

So skip the worry. Live mindfully in the present. Enjoy what you’ve been given. Determine that you have enough, that you are blessed abundantly, and that you have much to share with and give to others. Life is good, God is good, and you are good enough, too.

And now for something a little bit different…

If you still doubt it and feel inclined to worry, then take a listen to this classic rendition of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin. See if you can identify the two other guys in the video. (Sorry about the ad. You can click to skip it after five seconds.)

Photo by Elizabeth Audrey. Thanks!

Dream Boldly

“Why are you scared to dream of god when it’s salvation that you want?” — Conor Oberst (American singer and song writer)

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about fear and what it does to people. Fear is a basic emotion. It can be experienced as a response to perceived danger or risk, or it may be expressed as a response to something disliked. What fear is “not” is the place we are to dwell. Living in fear is not the Creator’s plan for any of us.

In fact, scripture has plenty to say about not being fearful. There are at least 365 references to living without fear–one for every day of the year. A couple of my favorite passages are from Deuteronomy and Psalms:

Be strong, be bold, don’t be afraid or frightened of them, for Adonai your God is going with you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you. –Deuteronomy 31:6 (CJB)

Adonai is my light and salvation;

whom do I need to fear?

Adonai is the stronghold of my life;

of whom should I be afraid? Psalm 27:1 (CJB)

I think for some folks fear is a crutch to keep them from dreaming boldly and from believing fully. I remember Macbeth’s words to his wife from Shakespeare’s timeless play of the same name “If we should fail?” (1.7.58) Of course they are plotting mayhem and murder to ensure Macbeth’s rise to power, not brave, bold thanks-living. But still, fear cripples Macbeth as surely as it does any human–for good or ill intent.

Fear can keep you from experiencing deep, satisfying relationships. Fear can prevent you from taking risks that will lead to amazing rewards (both tangible and intangible). Fear can stifle creativity and prevent you from reaching your potential. Fear can keep you from being generous and sharing.  Fear can prevent you from flying and achieving your wildest dreams. In short, fear can lead to inept decisions that keep a person small, selfish, and short-sighted.

So on this second day of 2013, I wish you a year without fear. Just let it go. Refuse to give fear power over you, your emotions, and your actions. Let go of fear and see what the Creator of the Universe can work in and through you. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did!

Reflect:

How has fear prevented you from achieving something you wanted or dreamed about?

What one thing are you afraid of that you can let go in 2013?

How can you release your fear and harness your hopeful dreams of God’s goodness and mercy?

Photo by Martin Finch. Thanks!

Squeaky Clean

But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fuller’s soap… — Malachi 3:2

Read:  Malachi 3:1-4

Ponder:

“This life therefore is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness, not health, but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it, the process is not yet finished, but it is going on, this is not the end, but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified.” ― Martin Luther

Reflect:

I don’t know about you, but I like things squeaky clean. Unfortunately, with a busy life, children, and pets, my home is rarely squeaky clean. I’d like to think my spiritual life would past the proverbial “white glove” test, but I know that is not the case. I will never be perfect in this life, and I can never be “good enough” for God. Without grace and mercy I am nothing. Thankfully, by grace I am a work in progress. I am being scrubbed clean–purified and sanctified–in the discipleship process. Like Martin Luther wisely said, we grow, are healed, and are becoming what God intends for us to be.

The process is not always easy or smooth. Pain is often part of growth. We may find ourselves burned, stripped bare of all pretense and illusion, of everything to which we aspire or think we ought to be. God has a way of scrubbing us right down to our bare humanity, sanding our rough edges and cleaning away old coats of unnecessary fluff and nonsense.

When the going gets tough, just remember that you are a work in process–a work dearly loved by your Creator. You are precious. You have purpose (even if you haven’t discovered it yet). And you have been bought with a great price. Squeaky clean? Nah. Getting there? You betcha!

Thanks-Living:

Clean something. It can be dishes, clothes, your kitchen, the floors, the bathroom. Find something to clean and do it mindfully. Watch as the grime and dirt wash away. Use natural substances if possible like lemon, mineral oil, salt, vinegar, and baking soda. Take delight in making something sparkling and fresh. Imagine…this must be at least a tiny bit akin to how God feels as we are being made new and being purified.

Photo by internetsense. Thanks!