Snapshot: Waking Up

I had a hard time getting up this morning, and not because I’d been up late watching Star Wars: A New Hope with my daughter. In my dreams I got to spend time with someone I don’t see in person very often. And I didn’t want to go. Usually, I have to force myself to wake up. This time, I forced myself to stay asleep. It was equal amounts sweet and sad, but I’ll take it for now.

As was said in Romancing the Stone, I am a “hopeful romantic”.

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Before we go any further…

Sheesh. Half way into January already. Somewhere amidst Christmas, New Year’s Eve, the Sugar Bowl, returning to a “normal” schedule, three snow days, and life in general…I neglected a post I do every year.

The Word of the Year.

My friend Karen C.L. Anderson – writer, blogger, coach, self-acceptance and healing guru – introduced me to this concept several years ago. She discovered it through Christine Kane, an expert in helping women focus their professional lives. Instead of setting a resolution for the new year, a Word of the Year is broader. It gives your year focus, but allows for many ways to make it happen (one destination, many paths).

I find when I don’t choose a Word of the Year, I feel more scattered and at loose ends. And frankly, I’m tired of saying “I’m going to lose 20 pounds” or “I’m going to get organized”, only to get to April and laaauuugh.

There are ways to arrive at your Word. If you go to Ms. Kane’s website, there’s a guide to help you with the process. For me, the biggest help (and biggest challenge) is stillness. Allowing myself time to just be, with no TV, no music, no tech…just comfortable clothes, maybe hot tea, and time to reflect. Not analyze. Reflect. Stroll through the archive of my life and look at things as an impartial but curious observer. The answer doesn’t always come right away. It can take several days and several tries, but a Word comes. And if I keep circling back to it, that’s a good sign.

One of the first times I focused on a Word of the Year, I came up with Fearless. Maybe it should have been “Fear Less”. I’ve always wanted to be “right”, to be the smartest kid in class, to not be wrong or make a mistake. But those desires hogtied me. They kept me from making any decisions. I’d rather sit on the fence than be wrong. So I decided that year to be Fearless.

It was a word I could hang my hat on. When faced with a tough decision, I could pull up one word. Fearless. Don’t be afraid to be wrong. Don’t be afraid to be right. Don’t be afraid.

While it never made things easy, it did help. Instead of a laundry list of failed resolutions and things I wasn’t accomplishing, I could remind myself of one goal. Fearless.

In 2014, my Word was Authentic. I spent a lot of time playing small, keeping my feelings to myself so I didn’t rock the boat, and living other people’s visions of my life. As is written in Ecclesiastes, “there’s a time for silence, and a time to speak.” I spent a lot of time in silence. Sure, I functioned, but mostly I was silent. So last year, I decided to be Authentic. I knew that meant I potentially would shock and irritate people…but is that my problem, or theirs? People who are used to me not standing up for myself or a principle were surprised…and sometimes I surprised myself, especially when that act of courage went well. But I grew. And I’m still growing. Just because the calendar has flipped to 2015 doesn’t mean I’m done with being Authentic. It takes practice. So does Fearlessness, for that matter.

On my refrigerator is a magnet and in my purse a small mirror with the legend “Be Fearlessly Authentic”, courtesy of There’s a Badge for That. Ms. Claire, the owner of TABFT, posted the image on the company’s Facebook page one day. She didn’t know it, but she reminded me of who to be.

Elizabeth Irwin - Fearlessly Authentic

Be Fearlessly Authentic

A few friends were on the receiving end of my quest for Authenticity. I don’t think they’re still honked at me. One actually appreciated the honesty. The expression was necessary, but the execution could have been better.

So where does that leave 2015? Like Fearlessness, Authenticity needs practice. It might take years, but that’s okay. I’ve decided on a new Word of the Year.

Wellness.

For me, this isn’t about living at the gym and denying myself things I enjoy. It’s about living in balance. Not just talking about, but implementing self-care. It means sleeping when I need to sleep. Seeking out good people when I’m lonely. Allowing myself to spend time doing nothing if that’s what fits. Saying no. Saying yes to things that are fun simply for the sake of fun. Eliminating foods that make me feel sloth-like. Trying new things like dance, yoga, and even painting. Making time to do a Bible study, even if I can’t make the class. Expressing feelings, even the “ugly” ones, is a part of Wellness. Listening to music. Reclaiming things I once enjoyed, and finding new things to add to the list.

In my line of work, I see people ailing in body, mind, and spirit. I realize what a short ride it is from well to unwell. In order to be the best that I can be for others – my children, my family, my friends, the people who rely on me – I have to be Well and take care of myself whenever possible.

So what’s your favorite way to practice self-care and wellness? Are you a resolution person, or a Word of the Year person? Do you have a Word of the Year? Please chime in!

Living Ecclesiastes

Yesterday we said “happy trails” to our senior pastor of eight years and to his family as they moved on Alley in Spainto their next congregation. This isn’t unusual in the United Methodist Church, and it’s part of the gig when you are called to be an ordained pastor. Itinerancy is part of the package. This does not, however, make it any easier on any of the parties involved. There’s still a sense of loss, uncertainty, and a bit of chaos as the transition takes place. But we were all determined to make his final Sunday with us emblematic of the previous eight years.

Sunday also happened to be Scripture by Heart Sunday, when the Biblical storytelling team presents scripture from heart and from the spirit versus reading it directly from The Book. As I practiced, prayed, and worked with Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 and 14-15, I recognized my life echoing in the verses. In praying the verses, telling them aloud to an empty room, they stung…pressing on places in my heart I’d rather not think about. But like any medicine, it hurts when first applied to the wound, but after a few minutes there is relief.

Relief in the form of tears.

I’ve cried just about daily for the last few months. I felt myself at a crossroads but surrounded by fog on all sides. All the tears I banished for several years leaked out a little at a time. I’d allow myself time to shed just enough to keep the dam from bursting all together, and then I’d say “suck it up” and move on. But as I walked with Ecclesiastes, around and around ten well-known verses, I reached a watershed.

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…”

Everything is finite. Change is a given. We just hope that the “good stuff” has a good long season, and that the “bad stuff” is fleeting. Everything has its time…sometimes it’s to give us strength through respite, to extract us from a toxic environment, or to provide us with the right people and situations to help us thrive and fulfill God’s plan for us. Some seasons are painful and confusing, but serve a purpose, even though we are too busy cursing the situation and struggling to find a way through it.

“A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what has been planted…”

At first, I think of literal, physical birth and death, planting and harvesting. But I also see it as the birth and death of love, relationships, notions, ideas, and a definition of average or normal. The “normal” I’d been trying to live – perfectionism, self-critical, trying to do it all and do it brilliantly – caught up with me. The seeds of expectation I’d planted for myself grew into thorny vines of depression and anxiety. In the death of the old ways and the old me, I’m praying for a lighter path and a brighter direction.

“A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up…”

Don’t worry – no blood will be shed in the remaking of this life. Though I will admit to wanting to slap the taste out of someone’s mouth a couple of times. I have to kill the weeds. It’s like The Devil’s Snare in the Harry Potter movies. “If you struggle, it will only kill you faster,” Hermione said. But the weed hates sunlight. I am actively working to rid myself of toxic ideas and relationships, and allowing myself time to heal. I’m learning to say “no”. Breaking down old habits and rebuilding new ones is a tedious, draining process.

“A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance…”

A friend of more than 20 years recently said to me, “As long as I’ve known you, no matter what life has flung at you, you have remained strong, resilient, and positive. You are still that person.” In the last few months, I’ve seen a lot of change, including the end of a marriage and the departure of friends and mentors at a time when I craved stability. There is nothing I could have done to prevent these things, but pretending it doesn’t hurt only keeps the wounds open. Weeping and mourning I’ve got a handle on. Grief and I are old frenemies. But I am inherently someone who laughs and dances. I know that’s the real me. She’s in here somewhere.

“A time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing…”

Farmers clear away stones from the field before planting, or maybe you check the lawn for stones before mowing. They are obstacles. What are your obstacles to living an authentic life – the one God planned for you from the beginning? Wrong thinking? Depleting lifestyle? Fear? I think sometimes He places obstacles there for our own strengthening and growth in wisdom. We have to learn to recognize the obstacles and move them. There may be ideas and people you want to embrace…proceed with caution.

“A time to seek and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away…”

Did you ever lose something and spend hours trying to find it again, and hours more fretting about where it could be? Maybe it’s meant to stay lost. Maybe you don’t really need it. Did you ever cling to something out of nostalgia, obsession, or desperation? Maybe throwing it away is the first of several leaps of faith. We all need to declutter sometimes.

“A time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak…”

Do you repair it, or do you shred it completely and start over? The physical act of tearing something can be liberating – old love letters, photos, a journal. Carefully disassembling something, however, gives you the chance to reassemble it into something new, like taking apart an old dress and using the fabric for quilts and pillows. I struggle with silence. One of my great “faults” is keeping silent, often because I don’t want to rock the boat. I’d rather suck it up and keep the peace. Peace comes at a price, though. Anxiety, frustration, anger, depression. On the flip side, keeping silent also allows you to hear things that others may not.

“A time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace…”

I hate the way I feel. I hate being at war with the way I feel. I hate myself for having all of these unsavory feelings because this is NOT who I am. This is the first time I have experienced this level of anger. I hope it’s the last. It’s time for peace and it’s time for love. That peace comes from forgiveness. I’ve been trying for a year to forgive “seventy times seventy times”…but I think the forgiveness is going the wrong way. Maybe it needs to go inward instead of outward. “Forgive yourself. Forgive yourself and free up that space in your head and your heart and your soul. That’s valuable real estate.” I know that I want to be in love with my life again…not just functioning, but living and loving every day.

“I know that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it; God has done this so that all should stand in awe before him. That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already is; and God seeks out what has gone by.”

Those are verses 14 and 15 from Ecclesiastes 3. If we back up a bit to verse 11, it reads, “He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover, he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” Yep. That’s a tough one. We are aware of the passage of time and we want to know what’s ahead but we can’t see it, and it’s not our job to know. I think/worry about who I’m going to be in another year or five years or ten years…what kind of parent will I be, what does forgiveness feel like, if I change will I still be me? I just read somewhere recently that dwelling in the past poisons the present and keeps us from our promised futures.

Present becomes past in the blink of an eye. The future arrives just as quickly. “God seeks out what has gone by?” Why would God seek out the past?

It’s interesting to look at the different translations of that last verse. The English Standard Version (ESV) says “God seeks what has been driven away”. TheĀ  New International Version (NIV): “God will call the past to account”. The New Living Translation (NLT): “…because God makes the same things happen over and over again.” The Common English Bible (CEB): “And God looks after what is driven away.”

This wrestling match, this storm, this dark night of the soul – whatever you want to call it – is messy, ugly, painful, frustrating, exhausting, and so many other things. I know there is a brighter side. God grant me patience for the journey.