Bread and Wine: A New Year’s Eve Tradition

*Photo courtesy of (in)courage

I fell asleep at 11:53pm with a Harry Potter book nestled into the pillows beside me, the spine still gripped in my hand. My husband snuck into the room and snapped a photo of me sleeping in my New Year’s Eve party wear—a sweatshirt, pajama pants, and tousled hair—then he shook me awake. To celebrate…

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Five Steps to Walking the Path of Peace this Christmas

With the holiday season in full swing, I find myself spending an absurd amount of mental energy on twinkle light to branch ratios and how to hide packages from prying eyes. I also find myself in a tug-of-war with my inner self, the self that longs for peace, and my outer self, the self that lives in the real world of holiday hustle.

As we move into Advent, a time of expectant waiting for the coming Christ, I find myself longing more and more for the arrival of the Prince of Peace. This is the name for Jesus that I want to embody this Christmas. It’s the name I want to hang like a banner over our home, over my family, over my heart.

In an effort to hang the banner of peace over my heart, I’m taking a few small steps of intention this season. I won’t add “Stop yelling at the kids” because we all know that’s a given. Join me on walking the path to peace?

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Five Steps to Walking the Path of Peace

Receive: Set aside time for silence.

Wake up a few minutes before the rest of house, wrap yourself in a blanket, switch on the twinkle lights, and sit with yourself in the quiet. I like to sit with my palms open and facing up, in a posture of receiving whatever God has for me this day. If morning isn’t your sweet spot, turn off the Christmas tunes and the third showing of Elf in the evening. We’re so quick to fill every inch of space with ourselves–our anxieties, our to-do list, our feelings. Find a few moments in your day that allow for your restless soul chatter to come to a still point, and allow it to wait expectantly. Christ is coming.

Reveal: Spend time in Scripture

Eugene Peterson says that reading scripture is a way of “listening to God revealing God”, rather than a means of fact gathering or processing information. Approaching scripture from a posture of listening for God’s revelation of himself has the power to transform our understanding of the Bible. Rather than collecting stories, facts, and rules, we read with an ear to the ground, waiting for the thump and vibration of God’s footprints here on earth. This too is waiting. This too brings us to the still point of peace.

Renew: See God’s handiwork in nature

I think we all know the power of a good walk around the block, but I want to experience more than the wonder of my neighbor’s crooked wreaths and leaf piles. A reading of Psalm 8 is good place to start, so is the starlit fabric of the night sky, the small copse of trees in the backyard, a local pine scented garden center, a hike beside a reflective stream. The Psalmist David writes of nature’s ability to stir him to faith and thanksgiving. I find it not only stirs these healthy emotions, but it also hushes the ones that pull at the fine threads of peace.

Re-connect: Surrender through worship

“The heart of worship is surrender, ” writes Rick Warren, and while I absolutely agree, I also absolutely struggle to find listen-able Christian music. Enter Christmas. I’m currently listening to Josh Garrel’s new album The Light Came Down, as well as a stunning selection of Christmas tunes recommended by Kendra at The Lazy Genius (sign up for her email list. It doesn’t disappoint.), and they are watering my parched, worship-hungry soul. Surrender is allowing God to be fully himself, outside of the boxes we’ve constructed for him. It is resting in his sovereignty, and in his plan for the salvation of this world in the form of a flesh and blood child.

Root yourself: Seek out community 

This sounds counter-intuitive, especially for the introverts among us (raises hand), however peace walks hand in hand with belonging. Loneliness does not lead to peace. Rootedness, a deep knowing that there is space for you in this world, calms the restless heart. Lean hard into your places of belonging during this season, they will be a balm to the wounds and bruises we accumulate throughout the year. Walk with a friend, enjoy a quiet conversation, cozy up with your spouse on the sofa, snuggle the kids a little longer, visit your mama, attend the candlelight service at church. Forget the gatherings that stir up insecurities, and instead gather with those who make you feel most yourself, who also walk the path of peace.

When You Wish You Started Sooner

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One after the other, when asked what they would do differently for the next assignment, each student said, “I’d get started sooner and stop procrastinating.”  I listened from a seat in the corner of the classroom, and their lament struck a chord with me. They were all of eighteen years old, and even with our age gap, like me, they wrestled with a fear of mismanagement. Their fear manifested in sweaty palms the night before class, and questionable essays constructed between pizza slices and texting. My fear manifested in sleepless nights and rambling journal entries wondering if I’d mismanaged the past two decades of my adult life.

I used to imagine what my life would look like if I’d started “living” it sooner. If I’d moved away from home sooner, embraced my writing sooner, known and understood my own soul–sooner. The list trails behind me like a thick cloak–one I’ve worn for far too long. The problem with this fictional reality is that it appears like an underdeveloped photograph. Only part of the picture is revealed, while the rest remains blurry. I can’t see how an impossible future would take shape because every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Every confident step towards an imagined path, requires that I step away from the reality of another.

In my twenties, I was living my life as authentically as I knew how. There is no need for shame or regret or a cloak of if-onlys dragging behind me on the wandering path it took me to arrive in my forties. What I once saw as a putting-off or procrastination, was simply growing up. Embracing new experiences, making every-size decisions, falling, failing, losing my way, trying again.

There is always an alternate path shimmering like a mirage in our imagined future. But it is the path of reality, the one worn with our footprints, crowded with the faces we love, lined with the rooted growth of the seeds sown year after year that appears in sharp focus. Our mistakes may litter the path, but our triumphs and great loves and moments of illumination do too.

If you find yourself wishing you’d started something sooner–family life, pursuit of your vocation, self-care, loving others well, faith-building–it’s never too late to start. Looking back and wishing for the imagined past, will not improve your present or give you a fresh and prophetic vision for your future. Cast off the cloak of if-onlys. Allow the Holy Spirit to guide you. It’s the road ahead with its infinite possibilities that matters.

Perseverance Is The New Sexy

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My husband and I sat huddled around the computer with our houseguest, watching the video of his interview with a South American beauty queen. She asked him about his recent book release, and after she asked in Spanish and he answered in English, my husband said, “I didn’t know you speak Spanish.” “I don’t!” he replied. “We talked about it in advance and faked it for the cameras.”

“Watch this part,” he said, when the beauty queen switched to impeccable English. “She gets personal, and there’s a bit of a frisson between us.” We smiled as we watched this otherworldly beauty, with a talent for languages and for hiking up her bosom with an industrial strength push-up bra, ask our friend, who was slightly hungover and wearing a toothpaste stained t-shirt, how he enjoyed his time in her country. They bantered a bit, and he used his British accent to great effect, and she laughed, and we, on the other side of the screen, laughed with her.

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This month, my husband and I celebrated twenty years of marriage. I’ve been married for nearly half of my life, waking up to the same man on the other side of the bed for as long as I can remember. The early days of nervous laughter and sweaty palms and  sensations of excitement, frissons if you will, have matured into something deeper, something solid, something daily.

This is the strength of a long marriage–discovering passion is built upon the cornerstones of like-minded purpose, and encouraging your spouse to become who they’re meant to be. Over the years you find a “frisson” looks less like a camera-worthy flirtation, and more like your spouse unexpectedly washing the dirty dishes. Strength isn’t built on a rush of sudden emotion, but on choosing each other day after day after day.

Those of us who’ve made Ebenezers of these milestones in marriage, know this is what it takes. It’s not what the world considers sexy–there are no reality shows called “Housewives of Suburbia: Committed to Making It Work.” Reality roots itself not in the show, but in the quotidian rhythms of life.

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I know this about marriage, and I know this about mothering, but I am still learning this about the pursuit of art and higher education. I want it to feel a little sexy. I want the frisson of the blank page, of sitting down to write and discovering I have strung words together like stars across a midnight blue sky. I want it to feel like magic exists in the craft and in the pursuit. I want the fizz of fireworks when I create, and that flash-pop rarely exists. Pursuing our dreams often roots itself in the quotidian rhythms of life, just as it does in marriage.

I wish I had known it meant choosing my art daily, even when I don’t want to look it full in the face because we’re barely speaking. Or repeating the same tasks over and over to build up the muscle memory of love for my work. I wish I had learned sooner that the strength of creating a large body of quality work is built on the foundation of small, daily decisions not built on my feelings.

I know I am not alone in this pursuit. You have a family, a career, a goal, a dream. And you wake up to the reality of how much hard work it requires everyday. You wake up to look it full in the face, and you wonder if the choices you make today create a difference in tomorrow’s story.

Growth comes when we place one foot in front of the other, string one star across the sky, and live by the daily rhythms rather than fight them. A glance back at how far you’ve traveled from your starting point becomes the source of true pleasure. Forget the flirtations. Perseverance is the new sexy.

Practical Tips for Coming Back to Center

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Earlier this week, I wrote about returning to center when life feels as if it’s spiraling out of control. I am a work in progress when it comes to keeping the main thing the main thing, but I have a few touch points I use throughout my day to help me remember I am a human being, not a human doing.

I’ve discovered a few key things that I find life-giving, and I try to layer them into my day. My things may not be the same as your things, but I thought I’d share as a jumping off point for you to think about your own desires and what touch points you might incorporate into the labyrinth of your busy life.

Spirit

Connecting:

Prayer, scripture, and stillness are a must for my day to stay centered. We all know this to be true, but finding the time can be a struggle in our busy days. Rather than finding the time, I create it in the mornings. I often find it difficult to turn off the incessant turning over of minutiae in my brain and focus on connecting to my spirit. Through trial and error, I discovered one of the best ways to quiet my thoughts and enter into the realm of the spirit, is to begin by reading a Psalm. Is there a particular book of the Bible, or passage of scripture that speaks to you? Begin there. Is there an ancient prayer you might repeat? The words of a hymn? A song of worship you might play? We all have our own path to prayer and scripture reading. Find yours and begin to incorporate it. Your day will thank you for it.

Body

Moving:

To stay centered, I need to move my body. No one loves to lounge on a sofa more than I do, but my backside loves it a little too much. My motivation to begin moving was, to be honest, based on the state of the aforementioned backside. However, I discovered one of the by-products of putting my body through the difficult motions of running, pilates, or yoga has the opposite effect on my mind. While my body moves, my brain receives a much longed for break. The motion centers my mind from its endless circling. On busy days, I keep it as simple as a walk around the block, and I might spend my time praying then too. Walking gives me the chance to focus on them all: Brain, Spirit, Butt. Every day, move a little.

Soul

As in most things, soul care looks different for each of us. For me to feel fully centered, my day would ideally include:

Reading: I need to read. I need it like water, and my soul feels dry and brittle when I don’t read a little everyday. Some days, all I can muster is a poem. Others, I might manage a chapter. I haven’t found anything else that brings me back to the core of who I am, apart from reading a good book. It was the first thing I turned to as a child, and as an adult it often feels like the last thing I allow myself to do. It feels indulgent. The truth is, it’s necessary to my soul’s health.

Creating/Writing: I know this won’t scratch where most of you itch, but I need to write a little every day. I don’t hold myself to a particular number of words, and journaling my inner crazy counts. I need a place to spill everything building on the inside. When I don’t write for a while, the words build like castles, taking up all of my soul space. Once I release them on a page, they can talk amongst themselves. Writing may not be your thing, but we all have the ability to create. Soul care involves creating. What is one small thing, one baby step you can take each day, to add creating into the rhythms of your life?

Listening: When my children were young, I passed through a season where I couldn’t add any more noise to my daily life. I rarely listened to music, and never would have listened to a podcast (had there been such a thing). Music was soul static, but my life was poorer for it. I wish I’d explored music more, and found something to soothe my soul rather than irritate it. I’m making up for it now, and I find I need to listen to either music or an interesting podcast at some point during my day to feel whole. Someday, I’d like to learn how to make music of my own. Does listening help you center too?

Chasing Beauty: One of the smallest ways I stop circling and come back to center, involves chasing beauty. It took me decades to discover that finding beauty in my everyday life is one of my core values. For me, beauty often has its genesis in nature or art and always leads me to a deeper truth about myself or God. Sometimes I find beauty in the connection points I offer above–on a walk in the woods, reading a poem, listening to classic jazz. Other times, I have to chase it down by recognizing it in the curve of my daughter’s cheek, a certain slant of light, the scent of fresh cut lemons, or in a friend’s laughter. Beauty is everywhere, and it is essential to slowing the soul spiral. Often, I like to capture it in words or in photos to help my soul remember. Where do you find beauty? Are your eyes and ears open to it daily?

You might be wondering how to fit all of this into your already full day. You work, you raise littles, you hold the weight of the world on your shoulders, like Atlas. Often times, making one centering choice, allows the others to tag along. If you fit in the time for a walk, say a prayer along the way. Look at the way the sun shines through the dappled oak leaves and chase that beauty. Listen to your favorite song on the walk home. Create by humming a tune of your own. Layer these connection points within your everyday.

It doesn’t have to be complicated, but we make it so. Keep it simple. Connect, move, create, chase. You can do this, I promise.

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What would you add to my list? What would you take away? What is your best tip for staying centered?