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The Stories We Tell Ourselves

Lately I’ve realized some interesting patterns in my thoughts. Through a lot of self-reflection, I’ve learned that I deeply want to be good and do the right thing.  This is commonly called perfectionism, but actually “being good” is most important for me.  It’s not that I need to be perfect or have others view me as such, but I strive to always do the right thing which then provides a sense of being good. 

The thought pattern I’ve witnessed on several occasions goes something like this:

First, someone communicates a situation to me wherein I perceive they think I did something wrong. And, due to my hyper sense of responsibility, this potential error can be something incredibly small and insignificant!

Next, my mind starts spinning stories in an attempt to regain my sense of “being good”.  My thoughts reframe the situation to retain my sense of rightness. In other words, self-justification kicks into overdrive!

Often, this story involves discrediting the person who communicated the situation or mistake to me.  As in, if they’re wrong then I can be right. There’s a very unhealthy black/white, right/wrong dynamic at play when this is happening. Then, in a vicious cycle, I then start feeling badly about myself for thinking uncharitable thoughts about this person.   

Recognizing this has been very powerful!  I can now step back and observe this thought pattern instead of getting all fused with the stories my mind is telling me. 

As I’ve talked to several friends and family members about this thought pattern, I’ve learned that most people have routine stories they spin.  For some, whenever they perceive a need they deeply feel that they must meet it for other people.  Others routinely confront injustices and feel called to right the wrongs they encounter. 

We all tell ourselves stories in an attempt to make sense of the world around us.  Reframing has become a popular idea and is defined as a technique used in therapy to help create a different way of looking at a situation, person, or relationship by changing its meaning.  Our reality is partially shaped by these stories that we craft and then believe.   

I successfully reframed a situation last week.  Sienna’s class is going to Williamsburg next March and she desperately wanted me to go as a chaperone.  I’d applied, along with several other parents.  Due to the ratio of girls and boys they ended up selecting two moms from her class to chaperone (along with a few dads).  I worried about the situation quite a bit. I was concerned Sienna wouldn’t want to go on the trip if I wasn’t selected to chaperone.  When I learned that I would not be going on the trip, it took the better part of the day to reframe the situation. 

All along I’d been praying that God would work all things for good, so I started looking for hidden blessings in the situation.  Since the trip occurs during the spring busy season for my company, I felt relief that I wouldn’t have to manage trying to take a vacation during this stressful time of year.  Fortunately, Sienna is now open to going on the trip without me, which will be a great experience of growth for her. 

The stories we tell ourselves are not innately good or bad.  They can be helpful and useful or destructive and painful.  I think the real trick is being able to step back and observe our thoughts for what they are: stories that run through our minds.  When they help us live according to our values, we should certainly embrace the story.  But, when they cause anxiety and frustration while we attempt to control the world around us or justify ourselves, it brings great peace to let go of the story. 

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Ups and Downs in Sports and Life

The fall is my favorite time of year, and has been for as long as I can remember. I love the coziness and anticipation of the holidays.  I love pumpkin everything, wearing sweaters (now that it has finally cooled down in San Diego!) and settling in to a school routine.  Dennis and I have always loved football season, but now we have another sport to look forward to: soccer!  Mateo has played for four years now and I absolutely adore watching him play! 

He has a gracefulness and intensity on the soccer field.  As his mom, I get very emotionally involved in his games.  I cheer, scream, laugh, and sometimes even cry.  It’s the full spectrum of emotions!

A few weeks ago, his game was particularly enthralling.  First, he had an accidental hand ball in the goalie box which resulted in the other team scoring on a penalty kick early on.  I watched him respond with little emotion to this setback.  Then, later in the game, he scored two goals!  The second of which was on a corner kick he took and I miraculously caught on video!  I’m usually enjoying the game too much to take photos or videos, but I’d heard the coach tell Teo he was about to get a rest, so I figured I’d record for the last minute he was on the field. 

On the car ride home we viewed the video clip to relive the moment again.  This time, I noticed that, although it was a strong kick, the goal could largely be attributed to the goalie mishandling the ball. I felt badly for the little goalie and it reminded me of Teo’s hand ball at the beginning of the game.  Adversity in sports is constant.

With these ideas fresh in mind, I ran on the treadmill that afternoon and watched a college football game.  One highlight was a long pass downfield where the wide receiver made an exceptional play!  As he celebrated his catch, the defensive back was sprawled on the field, totally defeated.  It hit me, many moments in sports represent both an achievement and a failure. In some ways, you cannot have a high without a corresponding low.  Think about it: a pitcher striking out a batter represents his success, while the batter has failed.  Whereas, a home run represents the batter’s success and the pitcher’s failure. 

From the outside looking in, it seems clear that the victorious player is the “winner” and the defeated player is the “loser” in these moments.  However, this one moment in time could actually represent an inverse reaction. What if the wide receiver who made the amazing catch decides this play proves what a wonderful player he is and therefore he stops working so hard at practice?  What if the defensive back uses this moment of defeat to motivate himself to practice harder and grow as a player? 

Growth happens throughout our lives in so many ways.  Each moment and experience has the potential to further our growth and development.  This reminds me of the famous quote by Nelson Mandela. He said, “I never lose. I either win or learn.”  Isn’t it true?  Most of the learning and growth we experience in life comes from hardships, failures, or setbacks.  When things aren’t working well is when we have to dig down deep and evaluate our behavior and actions to see where we can improve. 

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my role in my children’s moments of failure and hardship.  It’s important that they build resiliency and the ability to learn from their mistakes and try again.  When I jump in to soften a failure or manage their feelings, I’m actually robbing them of the fuel to learn and grow.  Those moments of adversity are important teachers. Actually, Teo demonstrated this growth mindset during that soccer game. When I asked him, “How’d you feel after the penalty kick?” he replied, “Oh, it was okay. I just figured, we’ll have to go score some goals.”

My Awakening

Weak and Begging

Some weeks creep up on you with their intensity of activities or emotions.  Others, you can see coming from miles away.  I’ve known for several weeks that the past few days were going to be challenging.

On Tuesday my team and I dealt with a huge work deadline that required a 16 hour workday and a lot of stress as we made the filing cutoff with seconds to spare.  Yesterday, I said goodbye to a dear friend (and beloved running partner!) on our last run before she moved across the country.  Another challenging work situation ended my day before I gratefully collapsed at home.  Then today, I had dental fillings between my teeth. After recently having a very painful experience at the dentist, I really wanted to cancel but opted to follow through.  

Throughout this time and leading up to it, I kept praying that God would help me stay present and feel my feelings without letting them overwhelm me.  I prayed that my tiredness wouldn’t cause disproportionate emotional reactions as I managed my work responsibilities.  On the other hand, I didn’t want to repress my feelings by controlling my thoughts, so I could properly take in my time running with Leslie.  I’m so grateful that I was able to remain present, feel the full spectrum of emotions, and accomplish the tasks set before me.  These past few days taught me several things:

I can do hard things.  I can let myself feel the discomfort of doing hard things, without needing to struggle with my feelings.  Anticipating hard things with prayer and surrender is much more helpful than denying or ignoring my feelings. By being fully present, I wasn’t anticipating the next moment or situation, therefore draining my energy to handle the current moment. 

When my thoughts wandered into unhelpful territory, like focusing on all the things other people did that caused extra work for my team on the deadline, I gently defused the judgments.  However, I also prayed for help seeing reality and where I should advocate for better processes and outcomes.  Pulling apart helpful analysis from unhelpful blaming is a skill I’m trying to cultivate.

Life is full of gray.  I’ve tended to see situations, people, events as either good or bad, but in truth everything and everyone (except Jesus!) is a blend of the two.  Allowing myself to hold the tension between positive and negative or right and wrong allows for a more true and authentic experience.  Getting through a rough deadline is stressful, but also an opportunity for our team to bond and develop deep trust with one another.  Saying goodbye to a friend is sad, but I’m excited for her next adventure and get to cherish the sweetness of a reunion in the future. 

Reflecting on these days reminds me of Paul’s description of praying for God to remove the thorn in his flesh:

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2Corinthians 12: 8-11.

On Sunday at the communion rail, one of our elders spoke the words, “Kelsey, the blood of Christ” with a loving tenderness that brought tears to my eyes.  Our Pastor had just preached about how we’re all beggars coming before God seeking grace and forgiveness.  I felt my weakness acutely.  I felt my neediness for God’s grace and comfort.  To others, it may look like I came through these challenging few days with self-assurance. But I know that God provided all the strength when I was weak and begging.

My Awakening, Uncategorized

Supernatural Common Sense

Through all of these years of personal growth and letting go of control, I continually fall into an illusion that I can somehow perfect life by always doing the right thing. Time and again, I’ve had to realize the trap I’d fallen into and slowly, intentionally return to a place of surrender and rest in God. Part of acceptance is learning not to shame myself for this pattern. Instead, I try to be gentle with myself and return to the mindfulness techniques of prayerfully letting go of my thoughts and allowing my feelings to come and go.

I recently finished Thomas Merton’s No Man Is an Island, which I marked up extensively! Reading it, I a similar feeling that I had when reading Ronald Roleheiser’s Forgotten Among the Lilies: Learning to Love Beyond Our Fears. Merton expresses such simple but profound truths about the human condition and our relationship to God. One quote that I highlighted with an “Awesome!” comment in the margin was: “If we are too anxious to find absolute perfection in created things we cease to look for perfection where alone it can be found: in God,” (p. 128). This reminds me of when Rolheiser said “Our world teaches us that we are significant and precious, but then deprives us of the one thing that can make us so, God. This sets off an incurable ache,” (Forgotten Among the Lilies, p. 20)

These simple statements ring with such truth in my experience! The further I stray from God and being mindful of His will and ways, the more I focus on myself and strive to perfect the world around me (as if it was within my power to perfect anything!). Merton also says:

In order to find God in ourselves, we must stop looking at ourselves, stop checking and verifying ourselves in the mirror of our own futility, and be content to be in Him and to do whatever He wills, according to our limitations, judging our acts not in the light of our own illusions, but in the light of His reality which is all around us in the things and people we live with.

No Man is an island, 120.

God is so mighty and righteous that our feeble minds scarcely can conceive of His greatness. There is a deep peace that only comes from recognizing God’s perfection and our relative weakness. Our society generally sends a message of self-actualization that, while attempting to empower us, actually intensifies our anxiety and sense of powerlessness. We cannot do it all, have it all, or be it all in this lifetime. Recognizing our limitations and resting in God’s provision for us brings such peace.

Merton describes this concept of Christian humility as “first of all a matter of supernatural common sense.” He goes on to explain that “it teaches us to take ourselves as we are, instead of pretending (as pride would have us imagine) that we are something better than we are.” I love this! I find such irony in the fact that embracing my limitations, weakness and sinfulness provides the peace and security that the world fails to impart through self-esteem and self-empowerment. Merton concludes, “If we really know ourselves we quietly take our proper place in the order designed by God.” Amen.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how we discern God’s will in our lives. He calls us to act and fulfill vocations within His kingdom, so we clearly have to do more than simply rest! Being present and really seeing the people around me is the best way I know to love and serve them. Prayerfully maintaining this supernatural common sense that reminds me of my neediness for God, also allows me to extend grace and love to others.

Home and Family, My Awakening

“You’re Good.”

Self awareness and growth are two aspects of life that I value very much. But, they are not always easy and often come with some discomfort. The last couple weeks have been full of personal epiphanies and a fair amount of tears.

When I realized that I’m a Perfectionist, or an Enneagram Type 1, it helped clarify a lot of aspects of how I process thoughts and feelings. I definitely related to the desire to control and the harsh inner critic that is constantly telling me what I should do or what could be done better. I related less intensely to the passion of this type which is resentment or repressed anger. Also, I didn’t focus on the desire to “be good” and take responsibility for everything.

Through a recent situation at work, I recognized that I’d spun quite a story in order to preserve my belief that I was good and right. As I unpacked what happened and how I’d responded, it was very apparent that being “good” was the motivation behind my behavior. I’ve also come to see how often I take responsibility for the outcome of situations that are really not under my control. This isn’t the best quality as a manager, since one of my primary jobs is to hold others accountable for their work performance!

As I’ve been processes these experiences, I’ve spent a lot of time praying. I’ve been feeling unsettled and realized that I’ve strayed from many of my mindfulness practices that help me stay in the moment. Instead, I’ve been fused with my thoughts, aka “stuck in my head”. This is the pattern of my life. Surrendering and letting go usually takes a few days of prayer, defusing my thoughts, and accepting my feelings.

This morning, bright and early, I sat outside and read the Bible and a few pages of Thomas Merton’s No Man Is An Island. Merton describes “pure intention” as the desire for God’s will and “impure intention” as the desire for your own will. This passage struck me powerfully:

Only a pure intention can be clear-sighed and prudent. The man of impure intention is hesitant and blind. Since he is always caught between two conflicting wills, he cannot make simple and clear-cut decisions. He has twice as much to think about as the man who seeks only the will of God, since he has to worry about his own will and God’s will at the same time. He cannot be really happy, because happiness is impossible without interior freedom, and we do not have interior freedom to do what we please without anxiety, unless we take pleasure in nothing but the will of God.

thomas merton

Wow. When Dennis and the kids came out to the backyard a few minutes later, I read them this passage and asked Dennis, “Can you read me this every morning?” He replied, “Let’s post it up all over the house!” He knows me well.

Sienna asked me what that passage meant. As I described it, I explained, “Sometimes I really like to feel in control, but it pits my will against God’s, which causes me a lot of unnecessary frustration and anxiety.” She looked at me with her big brown eyes (I swear that child looks straight into my soul) and simply said, “You’re good.” Those words touched something inside me as I’d recently come to know how deeply I desire to be good. Tears sprang to my eyes as I gave her a hug.

These tender moments of connection truly give life meaning. These are the moments that I miss when I’m “in my head” being all efficient and under control. While a desire to “be good” is a helpful trait, it can quickly become all consuming. Always being good is impossible and leads me away from dependence on Christ’s righteousness and grace. God is good and His will is perfect.

All my seeking and striving finally rest when I rest in God.

Home and Family, My Awakening

Intention WITH Action.

While on a prayerful run Saturday morning, I let my thoughts ebb and flow. I’d returned from a three-night work trip where I had several epiphanies about my identity as a leader and how I choose to spend my time. Suddenly, a phrase popped into my head: “Intention without action.” Hmm, interesting. For the past couple years, I’d been thinking about living intentionally. Just that week, I’d heard myself tell my Team that I had intended to do something that I’d neglected to do. A lot of good intentions do! In order to be a strong manager and leader, I need to take action. Intentions are very similar to plans, they are a good starting point, but meaningless if not put into action.

Years ago, I had a similar realization that life happens in the here-and-now. Instead of getting all caught up in my thoughts, plans (and intentions!), the fullness of life occurs when I focus my attention and awareness on doing something, or taking action. This is especially true when it comes to building relationships. All the good thoughts within my mind about a person or how our relationship could improve never make an impact on the other person! They only know my heart by the things I do.

After my run, Sienna and I had a mother/daughter date, starting at the hairdresser. As we were getting ready to leave and outlining out day, she said, “And then, we can come home and rearrange the pictures on my walls, right?” I agreed we would. After a fun and full day, I’d started to settle into an evening of reading outside when Sienna reminded me about her bedroom project. So, I mustered up the energy to put my book down and go into her room. As she started to explain her vision, I could feel a little resentment simmering inside. I wanted to read and retreat into my own little world.

Thankfully, a small little voice (the Holy Spirit most likely!) suddenly reminded me of my morning lesson: What you really want is to spend time with Sienna. That intention doesn’t build a relationship, these actions do. Be here now. We proceeded to spend over an hour rearranging the art on her walls and matting several of her drawings onto card stock so they’d look more uniform and artistic as a group. She was delighted and the finished room is beautiful!

Just as we were finishing up in Sienna’s room, Mateo burst into tears. That morning he and Dennis had seen The Art of Racing in the Rain and several of the images were “scary” to him. It’s a really emotional film and he was having a hard time processing all the real life drama. I sat with Teo for quite awhile, just letting him cry and reminding him to breathe! Sienna started trying to cheer him up. We moved outside to the fire pit, where Sienna retold him stories from the Ramona Quimby books. Teo started giggling through his tears. Then they got blankets out and read together. I hated to have to break-up this sweet, bonding moment when it was way past their (already late!) summer bedtime.

“That was nice of Sienna to cheer you up,” I said to Teo as he was getting into bed.

“Yeah, it really helped,” he’d simply replied with the sweetest smile.

The next morning at church, I whispered into Sienna’s ear: “You were such a kind big sister to Teo last night.” She smiled.

Witnessing this interaction, I was reminded again that relationships are built on action. If Sienna had just intended to be a loving sister or thought loving words about her brother while he was sad, it would not have much impact on Mateo or his perception of their relationship. Instead, by putting her love into action through storytelling and reading for him, she conveyed love and care much more than words or intentions ever could.

Over the past six years, mantras have been very helpful for me as I practice letting go of control and being present. “Intention without action” didn’t have quite the right ring to it. As I prayed about this simple phrase, it transformed into an affirmative statement: “Intention WITH action”. Much better! I’m going to post this reminder in various spots so I’ll remember to put my intentions into action by doing the things that will build relationships, both at home and at work.

Happy Monday everyone! May today be full of meaningful actions for you.

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The Joy and Angst of Film Viewing

Yesterday afternoon, Dennis and I were trying to decide on a movie to see for our date night that evening. One of our favorite babysitters, Grace, is home from college for the summer; so we scheduled a date night just to have her babysit one more time! Going to the movies requires a bit more planning these days as all our local theaters have assigned seats. It’s a cool change, but you have to plan ahead unless you don’t mind craning your neck from the front row!

We’d heard good things about Once Upon a Time in Hollywood but I was a bit dubious. I’m not a Quentin Tarantino fan. My attempt at watching Kill Bill several years ago was quickly abandoned when the violence and disturbing images became too much for me. Visual images REALLY stick with me. I’ve been haunted by many movies over the years. My brother is an independent film producer but there are many of his films I cannot bring myself to see. I’ll force myself to endure something disturbing for my brother, not so much for Mr. Tarantino.

But, in an effort to embrace “feeling my feelings” (this is the same logic that caused me to watch The Shining a few years ago – a decision I’ve regretted ever since!) I said, “Let’s go for it!” and we purchased two tickets online. Then, I decided to Google “How much violence is in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” and found several reviews. Turns out that most of the violence is saved for the end of the movie, during the scenes of the Manson murders. As I read a few reviews, I was already repulsed.

“What was I thinking? I can’t watch this movie!” I exclaimed to Dennis.

“Okay, we don’t have to. Can you get a refund?” he replied.

Turns out, you can! I quickly clicked on the Fandango link and chose the “Our plans have changed” option. You forfeit your convenience fee, but the ticket price can be refunded. Whew, what a relief!

We decided to see the romantic comedy Yesterday instead – much more our pace! It was a delightful little film! The premise is a struggling musician in England has a head injury and wakes up in a world without The Beatles. His manager and longtime friend Ellie stands by his side as he recovers and starts performing The Beatles’ songs in local pubs. Jack ends up becoming super famous for these songs and he has to decide whether to continue with this lie or return to a more fulfilling, smaller life back in England.

I’m not a big fan of The Beatles. I know that’s not a popular thing to say! I just didn’t listen to them very much growing up and haven’t listened to a lot of their music since. But, of course everyone knows their songs! Seeing this movie gave me a new appreciation for their music. I also loved the quirky dynamic between the two main characters – Jack and Ellie. And best of all, I had a lovely restful night without being haunted by scary images. To thine own self be true!

Home and Family

Fun Ways to Pass the Time on Family Road Trips…

Who doesn’t love a good family road trip?! We are big fans and our little ones are pretty good travelers. However, since we’re a decidedly low-tech family and don’t bring any screens along, we inevitably need some games or activities to pass the time. On our way back from Arizona last year, Mateo asked us to tell him “everything that happened” between our wedding and his birth. That tale passed a lot of time! Another fun car activity is just listening to music. I have the fondest memories of little Teo singing along with Alan Jackson to “When Somebody Loves You”. Alan Jackson is our favorite!

This year, we stumbled upon a couple new “games”. Teo came up with the first one, which we’re dubbing The Favorites Game. We each took turns coming up with a category, such as “type of dog” or “color” or “tree” then everyone went around the car sharing their favorites. We covered several topics, including state in the U.S., country, song, movie, etc. You get the idea! Although Dennis had to be somewhat prodded into playing along, this is actually pretty fun and insightful!

The other activity isn’t really a game, but the kids kept referring to it that way. As we were listening to Pandora, whichever adult wasn’t driving became the D.J. while we took turns requesting songs. Obviously, this can go on for hours! The variety of music was really fun as Teo methodically chose every Journey song he knew then several Queen songs. Dennis kept us guessing with selections from various genres and eras. Sienna kept choosing musical numbers from the new Aladdin movie and the animated ballet movie Leap!

Part of the fun is anticipating what each other will select. It’s also fun to plan ahead to what surprising song you’ll request next. The kids kept exclaiming things like: “I know the next three songs I’m going to pick!” At one point, as we approached Oxnard, I thought to myself: I’ll pick Green Day’s “21 Guns” next. A minute later it was Dennis’s turn and he chose 21 Guns! “Crazy, I was just thinking of that song!” I exclaimed.

As we sat in Southern California summer weekend traffic on our return trip home, our musical request “game” morphed into something new. Dennis chose a song from the Les Miserables movie soundtrack, which prompted the kids to start asking about the story. We ended up playing nearly the entire soundtrack while taking mini breaks between songs to explain what was happening and filling in context. This was super fun! Since we’ve really fallen in love with musicals, this will surely provide hours of entertainment in future family road trips!

What games or activities do you play on road trips?

Lutheranism

Grace Never Asks for Perfection

When I dig deep into my heart and look closely at my tendency to try to control my life, I often feel sheepish and silly. Perfectionism is such a ridiculous condition for a Christian! I believe that we are all sinners: …for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,  and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. (Romans 3: 23 – 25). But, then I so easily slip into behaviors that reflect different beliefs. These include striving to improve myself, ordering my external and internal worlds, and seeking to do the “good” and “right” thing at all times. In other words my actions take on the utmost importance in my life as I basically tell God, “Thanks for everything! I’ve got it from here…”

In Chapter 5 of Matthew, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus concludes the challenging directive to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you… by announcing: You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48). Yikes! Doesn’t that just sound condemning! I absolutely cannot be perfect enough for God’s standards. Fortunately, God knew this and provided an answer to our human condition by sending Jesus to be the substitute and propitiation for our sins. He upheld the law of perfection and, when we’re united to Him, His perfect righteousness covers our sinful hearts.

There is rhetoric within Christian communities that promotes the idea that we need to earn God’s favor through our actions. Our former pastor referred to these practices as “sin management programs”, as if we could somehow perfect ourselves by managing our behavior. Fortunately, I’m also hearing more honest and true representations of the “Law vs. Gospel” distinction in contemporary Christian music, which makes my heart happy! One example is from a favorite running song of mine, “Even Then” by Micah Tyler:

When the days up ahead look a little bit brighter
But the grip of the past holds a little bit tighter
I’m reminded Your grace never asks for perfection
Oh I’m restored ’cause I’m Yours and I stand forgiven

That simple line (the one in bold!) always grabs my heart. God’s grace doesn’t demand my perfection. In fact, the idea that I need to be perfect is basically a rejection of God’s grace. Grace is completely unmerited favor. I don’t deserve it at all. None of us can earn something that God freely gives out of His divine love. The MercyMe song “Best Day Ever” also captures this beautifully:

Some say, “Don’t give up”
And hope that your good is good enough
Head down, keep on working
If you could earn it, you deserve it
Some say, “Push on through”
After all, it’s the least that you can do
But don’t buy, what they’re selling
It couldn’t be further from the truth…

Some say, “Don’t ask for help”
God helps the ones who help themselves
Press on, get it right
Otherwise, get left behind
Some say, “He’s keeping score”
So try hard, then try a little more
Hold up, if this were true
Explain to me, what the cross is for

The simplicity of song lyrics often captures an idea in such a poignant way, so that I feel it rather than think about it. Truly, if we are able to be perfect enough for God’s standards, why would Jesus have to die for our sins? When we worry about God “keeping score” and tallying up our sins versus our good deeds, we take matters into our own hands rather than surrendering and resting in Jesus’s perfect atonement for us.

Recognizing our neediness before God completely overturns the modern focus on self-actualization. Instead of striving and trying to control the world around us, we can remember Paul’s experience of the thorn in his side: Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2Corinthians 12: 8-11).

God’s strength is made perfect in us when we stop trying to be strong and instead rest in his all sufficient grace. Amen!

My Awakening, Running

Mindful Practices that Enhance My Morning Run

There’s truly nothing like running to work on my mindfulness practices! (By the way, I have definitely written about this topic previously… ) This morning I was able to get in a lot of exercise while spending time with God in prayer and letting my feelings ebb and flow without trying to control them. Over the last several years of running, I have accumulated tips and techniques to maintain presence so that I enjoy the act of running, not just the feeling of having accomplished a run.

Sometimes, not always, I’ll choose to leave my running watch at home. That’s what I decided today. I was headed to Miramar Lake, which is a 5 mile loop, so I can basically track my distance without the watch. Having my mile times staring me in the face often causes me to pick up the pace. It also has the effect of measuring my activity in a way that can detract from the prayerful, meditative atmosphere I so enjoy.

Along the same lines, I didn’t set out to accomplish a certain number of miles. Time and again I have gotten a particular mile goal in mind, only to become frustrated and disappointed when my body, the elements, my blood sugar, or some other factor caused me to cut the run short. Much better to start running with the mindset that I’ll run as much as I feel like running, that day.

I love how running long distances mirrors the ebb and flow of life. There will be several moments in any given run when I’d rather be doing anything else! Little aches, feeling sluggish, and obsessing about how much father I still have to go are just a few of the things that can get me down. However, there are also many moments where I feel elated, energized, happy, and free. In those moments I feel like I could run forever! The trick is, you have to push through the moments of struggle and pain in order to experiences the running highs. Just like in life. Rarely do we succeed or accomplish anything difficult without some challenging moments when we have to dig down and give more effort. Another aspect of changing feelings is the realization that whatever I’m currently experiencing is temporary. I may ache and feel like quitting right now, but give it another mile or so, and that feeling likely will have changed. This too have implications for life, in that we shouldn’t make major life altering decisions based on potentially fleeting emotional states.

Listening to music provides the background to my thoughts and feelings throughout a long run. I love setting the shuffle feature to my running playlist that includes a little bit of Justin Timberlake and Green Day plus a lot of MercyMe and Micah Tyler songs. The mix keeps it interesting and the Christian music helps maintain a prayerful heart. It’s fun experience that little moment of anticipation between songs when you wonder “Which song will play next?” Also, I love letting my pace and energy level change to match the tempo of each given song. Often a couple fact paced songs will be followed by a slower tempo that naturally provides a recovery period before I pick up the pace again.

While running, my thoughts come and go so easily. One minute I’ll be thinking about work situations, another I will remember something we need to do for the kids. Certain songs will make me reflective about my relationships. Others will touch my heart and help me surrender more deeply to God’s plan for my life. The ability to let my thoughts flow from one topic to another without getting “hooked” into rumination has been a huge part of my growth. Running is such a great activity for practicing this mindfulness technique. When I start fixating on the pain or frustration of running, I can simply change the focus of my attention to the world around me. I’ll notice the beautiful lake water, the sound of birds chirping, smile at other runners or walkers as we pass by, or simply focus on my breathing or running stride for several steps.

Today’s run was a really good one! The weather was wonderfully overcast and even a little chilly for summer in San Diego – great running conditions! I thoroughly enjoyed running, praying, and my meditative mindset this morning. Since I didn’t go too fast on the first lap, I was up for running another full lap around the lake for a total of 10 miles. Not too bad for a Wednesday morning!