God on My Shoulder

I felt God on my shoulder today.

As I walked through my day, I encountered person after person that I knew I was supposed to meet. In an earlier time, I would have chalked it all up to coincidence. But I’ve been walking, crawling, stumbling and running along this faith journey for some time now – and if there’s one thing I believe, it’s that those coincidences were meant to be.

First I walked out of our church after volunteering with the toddlers for a few hours (great when they aren’t your own!) and literally ran into my old neighbor who is days away from giving birth to her second child. She’s apprehensive, and I hope I gave her words of encouragement and peace. I felt like I was meant to speak to her to give her a boost.

Then I ran into a second old neighbor – who is gaining increasing recognition for his art but struggling with a lack of a steady income.

I ran into another friend of a friend, weighing what it means to be a working mom and split between two roles.

And ultimately, I rode the Bart home with an older man named Steve, who asked me about my hair, and seemed genuinely moved by my decision to tell him of my grief and ultimate gratitude for this journey that has brought me closer to God. He asked me what church I went to (Cornerstone), and he’d thought many times about going there but was concerned about the neighborhood. He felt like God was tugging him back from some bad habits.

I’m from Minnesota, and there are a few commonalities about these amazing folk: one, there’s lots of church and synagogue attendees there and two, no one really talks much about their faith.

You see, talking about God on the Bart train doesn’t come easy to me. I know other people in my small groups over the years who have prayed for the chance to share their faith with others. Not me! Faith, in my upbringing, is meant to be private. And so, I was kind of shocked by myself and the circumstances to be having such a poignant, natural conversation with someone who clearly was in pain and seeking something.

God on my shoulder.

I’m still reflecting on the day, and how many opportunities God threw at me to be a light to others. And it felt good. Things and conversations just happened.

So what was I doing today that was so different from my usual, rushed, focused self?

1) I was resting. This shouldn’t be a big surprise. I took the day off my professional work, and made plans to spend the day doing things for myself.

2) I wasn’t rushing.

I planned enough time between appointments that when I had those divine meetings I settled in and let it happen, and didn’t feel the perfectionist-tug of not wanting to be late to the next thing.

3) I was taking care of my body.

This actually surprises me the most. After volunteering with the toddlers (which, now that my sons are in school, always gives me a boost), I planned a dentist appointment and then a massage to help my immune system. I think God wants us to take care of ourselves – not in a mind-numbing watch 5-hours straight of TV or go splurge on new clothes sort of way – but in a truly life-giving sort of way. It’s hard for me to even schedule sometimes, but today was such a present reminder that taking care of myself will bring me closer to God and the work that God has for me in this world. And no doubt, I’ll feel better and more energetic too!

Words that Stand the Test of Time

In some ways, blog posts are like whispers in the wind. The feelings, real as they are, might pass and move on tomorrow. And yet some truths remain unchanged throughout my moods, and the passing of day to day.

I’m reading this book by a leading contemporary author that had “Meditations” in the title.

Mostly they are letters that are her reactions to contemporary events. Yet by the time this book has been published, those events are now eight years past.

Despite loving this author’s work in general, I’m struggling with this book. I honestly don’t want to hear her musings or letters on political events that happened eight years ago. I can barely focus on critique and commentary of events happening today.

I’ve realized that I’m searching for books that have withstood the test of time for meaning and relevancy.

After putting it aside for many months, I finally picked up my Bible again last week. Written by countless authors, thousands of years ago, over many thousands of years, it is chock full of interesting stories and letters.

I am also looking for other timeless books, both spiritual and otherwise.

Can anyone recommend a book that they’d recommend on parenting, self-reflection, meditation, or faith that they read and again and again over time? Post them in the comments!

Gripped by Grief

Tonight I almost couldn’t bear to write.

It was easier to think about starting on the piles of laundry, and losing myself in a British period-piece miniseries (there are some other great ones out right now for those mourning the end of Downton Abby).

Tonight I’m wrecked by grief. It’s logged in my throat and my chest. Like a potato I’ve swallowed whole and can’t seem to dislodge.

Only this grief isn’t about what I’ve lost. It’s about what’ I’ve got to lose.

I guess fear could be closer to the word. I feel this sinking feeling of something slipping away, and I’m grieving my life without it. Only I haven’t lost anything yet.

That’s the worst part of it – to be sitting with this potato! – and wondering whether I’m gripped by irrational anxiety, or my better intuition.

A friend recommended the book “A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art you Were Made to Live.” There are many, many gems in here about how we are all artists in this life. This week I was moved by what Emily Freeman says about grief:

Grief does deep, important, sacred work. We have to pay attention to what grieves us and be willing to be fully human, both in what makes us come alive and what has the capacity to shut us down. What breaks our heart reminds us of what is deeply important to us. It is often from this place that our most beautiful, honest, generous art comes. (Freeman, A Million Little Ways)

And in the end, I know that this is truth: to be human is to sometimes be heartbroken. And what a gift this is! That we can soar with love and gratitude so fierce that we feel loss equally deeply when it comes.

So I breathe. Already the potato has moved down from my chest, into my upper stomach. By tomorrow morning it may be gone. And I’ll be standing in church singing of God’s love for me that embraces all this grief, all this joy, and everything in between. And how awesome is that.

Asking for What I Need

I witnessed an awkward exchange on the plane last week.

A woman coming on the plane, to woman sitting in the aisle seat.

“Do you mind sitting in the window?”

The response – “Actually, sometimes I feel a little sick.  I don’t really want to move.”

And then, looking at her ticket – “Actually I’ve got 7C [the aisle]”

Confusion and apologies followed.

It’s so much easier to see the obvious in others’ lives – it would have been better? more straightforward? if she had just stated her needs plainly: “It looks like I’ve got the aisle seat” instead of dancing around the issue.

Sometimes, when I finally get around to the (revolutionary, for me) act of stating my needs they are so pent up that the come out in awkward, resentful missives.

But I’m practicing. Often the hard part is figuring out what I need in the moment, so I can be comfortable, healthy and present for the people around me. I still have a hard time returning food in a restaurant. But with my family and loved ones and colleagues, I’m taking some slow steps to state the obvious when I really care about the outcome.

I’ve got the aisle seat!