Self-Care: Staying open and curious

20150913_135119I went for a short hike with all three of my boys recently. We had just come off a couple of weeks of flights, family get-togethers, a wedding, sick kids and the start of another school year. We needed something to replenish rather than simply cope. It felt like a good choice, but difficult at the time to make given the level of exhaustion and swirling stress.

There is just something about what a mountain forest and river does that parks and plastic play structures never do. The best moments were simple: throwing rocks into deep pools, eating lunch on a mattress of moss, puttering behind a hiking 18-month old and launching stick boats into gurgling rapids. Grant, my oldest, was running up ahead on the trail. He stopped and pivoted, bounded back a few yards and yelled, “I just love the smell of the air out here!”

I’ve never heard him say anything like that inside the city limits.

My body felt at play and my heart was closer to rest. There was nothing required. No demands or objectives to be met. Just a call to accept the earth’s whisper to come and play. And so I did, and it became the care I needed for that day.

I sit with a lot of people in desperate need of self-care who rarely prioritize it. I’m in that club, probably the leader of it. Often, the mere suggestion of it triggers an eye roll with a sarcastic inner voice, “Yeah, wouldn’t that be nice?” I find it interesting though that it is Jesus who put my ability to love Him and others in direct tension with my capacity to love myself. (See Matthew 22:39) When I think about that for a moment, then I really have to wonder what I’m rolling my eyes at. What am I really dismissing? In a word: kindness.

What might come of this life I’m living if I am more willing to accept kindness?

Self-care is so much more than healthy eating or exercising to purge the body of stress. These choices are genuine acts of kindness towards ourselves. Even more so though, self-care is a reflection of a very simple and profound truth: the capacity to love ourselves well is a core step in learning to love at all. So few make that connection. I am convinced that self-care, especially when conditions are less than ideal, is imperative for you. Why? It keeps your heart open and curious.

Recently, I was talking with a man contemplating making some major changes in his life. Here’s a few of the things he said:

“I feel this malaise of boredom.”

“I dread Monday mornings.”

“I’m so sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

“To be honest, I’m just afraid of not knowing what’s next and knowing I can’t stay here.”

“My soul feels so exhausted.”

Deep boredom and fear with soul exhaustion. Clearly, not in a pleasant place to be. After he went on for a bit I asked him, “Would you agree that all of the problems and unknowns you’ve just shared aren’t likely going to change much in the next 24 hours?”

“Ah, yes.”

“Okay, so, if you were to leave here and go to the grocery store what would you purchase to make for dinner tonight that you’d designate as “comfort food”?”

He rolled his eyes with a look of, Are you freaking kidding me!? You want me to do what!? Were you listening?

“Yes, I’m asking you to consider what you’d do tonight that falls under the category of ‘kindness’.”

Another eye roll began, slightly more exaggerated, but with the crack of a smile on his face. He was willing to play.

“A nice steak.”

“What kind?”

Sigh. “Oh, probably a ribeye.”

“Oooo, that’s my favorite cut! How do you like it?”

“Medium rare seasoned with salt and finished in butter.”

“Nice.” A sumptuous pause.

“I’d do a mushroom sauce, too.”

“What else would you put on that plate?”

“Red potatoes.”

“Seasoned?”

“With a bit of garlic salt, butter, and rosemary.”

“Mmmm. Any veggies?”

“Brussel sprouts.”

“Ohhh. I love those! I bake mine.”

“Me, too. I lightly oil ‘em with a sprinkle of salt and baked in the oven. Sometimes I add in crispy bacon chunks.”

“Chunks?”

“Yeah, chunks. I go with the thick bacon cooked to a nice crisp and then I break it up and mix it in with the spouts.”

“Anything you’d drink with this meal?”

“A red wine. I like cabernet sauvignon.”

“This sounds like a meal worth sharing. Anyone you’d want to share this meal with?”

“My wife. We love cooking together.”

“What if you choose to cook that meal tonight? Though you may not see it this way, the circumstances certainly call for it.”

I received an email from him the next morning telling me that after he left our time he called home, told his wife what he was up to and did it. A simple choice, and yet profound. He fought a battle to make the call and again on his way to the market, but he did it. They ended up sharing the entire evening together. They ate and talked late into the night. They learned new things. Covered some old things. Remembered important things. And shared the hopes and fears of the year ahead, together. Despite all signs that day pointing to take-out and numbing-out binge watching on Netflix, he chose something kind and it brought about some surprising results.

When under the strain of something difficult, the real power of self-care is in its ability to keep your heart in the game. Self-care can be an act of defiance for it refuses to accept the legion of things out to kill your hope. And they are legion. Self-care promotes conditions to keep you open and available, curious and vulnerable, honest and in reality.

Brené Brown writes, “Loving ourselves through the process of owning our story is the bravest thing we’ll ever do.” I agree, wholeheartedly, even if I struggle regularly to make the choice for self-care. But I ask God to remind me of these precious moments when the joy I felt inside was reflected back to me on my kid’s faces as we played among the trees by the river.

The Significance of Saturday

(Reflections during Holy Week, 2016)

This is Holy IMG_7185Week, and today is Holy Saturday.

Some traditions call this day Great Sabbath or Black Saturday. Black seems accurate. Far more, I think, than ‘Good’ used to describe Friday.

When it comes to the details in the gospel story of Saturday, we get nothing. It’s as if the screen has gone dark.

As we reflect on Holy Week, my question is: What happened on Saturday? Why is it we have such detailed accounts of the events of Friday and Sunday, but know nothing about Saturday?

I wonder what that day must have been like for Jesus. Are we to assume that nothing meaningful happened? Is it by design that this day was ignored in the Gospels?

Yet if you take away Saturday, all you have is a cheap magic trick; and my friends, there was nothing cheap about what happened that weekend. That particular Saturday was a costly day, I argue far more so than Friday.

Before we explore the significance of Saturday, let’s recap our knowledge of Friday and Sunday.

We know a lot about Friday.

We know about the Last Supper and Judas’ betrayal of Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. We know about Jesus’ last meal with his friends and how he washed their feet. We know about Jesus’ secretive arrest and unjust trial. We know Peter, during the arrest, made an attempt at stopping it and cut off the ear of Malchus. We know Jesus put that ear back on. We know that all the disciples scattered and one, Peter, betrayed even knowing Jesus. We’ve read about the excruciating crucifixion and when it was finished. We even learn about the burial his friends were able to give him. We know about the massive stone in front of the tomb, supposedly sealing Jesus in his death.

With detail after gruesome detail, we know a lot about Friday.

We know about Sunday, too.

On Sunday, we know Mary Magdalene was the first to discover Jesus’ empty tomb. We see that John and Peter have to see it for themselves and then they go to tell the others. We hear the angels and Jesus himself ask Mary why she’s crying.

The Gospels share quite a few details about Sunday.

But what happened on Saturday?

Unfortunately, we’re left to speculation about that in-between day. I imagine each disciple was in shock and disbelief, scared and confused, replaying the scenes over and over in the quiet torment of Saturday. There had to have been shame for abandoning Jesus. And there had to have been some finger pointing, too.

They were stuck in Saturday, living the horrors of Friday. Saturday must have been excruciating. From their perspective, every plan they had for their future was shattered. I would think one of the authors would have mentioned something about it. Even a sentence would be nice: “All Sabbath long the disciples talked about the last week and wept.”

But we get nothing.

Not a single detail.

It seems there’s a chapter missing. But when you think about it, there is deep significance in that Saturday.

I believe it’s because Jesus’ greatest suffering for us wasn’t Friday or Sunday, but Saturday. Whatever happened on that day for Jesus was far worse than anything we could ever imagine. And maybe the disciples’ silence on that day is evidence of their own torment.

Maybe Jesus leaving heaven to come to earth meant he had to live with the ache of ‘the already’ and ‘the not yet’ himself. Maybe that’s what Saturday was all about.

Maybe it’s all part of Jesus’ commitment to love us, too. Even if he knew where the story was ultimately going, he knew he needed to be in the space of transition if we were going to be asked to be in that space, too.

I think there’s something deep in me, and all of creation for that matter, that already has intimate knowledge of Saturday. We just don’t know what to do with the groan that comes from that transitional space.

Maybe underneath the seismic disruption of Saturday lies meaningful treasures you can’t yet imagine or appreciate. Transitions compromise our vision for the future, and just because you can’t see something meaningful doesn’t mean it’s not there.

But you are here.

It’s Saturday; whatever yours may be.

Maybe you are leaning into it.

Or maybe you feel like you’re not.

You feel more like you’re on your heels, pinned down or stuck.

Or maybe you’re working real hard to skip over Saturday – with all its murky confusion – to get to Sunday.

But you are still here.

And somewhere deep in your soul you want to believe that there’s something significant to live for. May that unsettling discontent set you in pursuit of it.

As we reflect on Jesus’ sacrifice on Good Friday and celebrate his resurrection on Easter Sunday, take time today, this Black Saturday, to digest what Jesus may have gone through on that day. Also take time to look at your own ‘Saturdays’.

Saturday’s hold an invitation to accept and it’s about your own transformation. Because deep inside, you are longing to dig up the buried treasure of your deepest desires and transpose them into “now what.”

Welcome to your Saturday.

What a holy day, indeed.

Surprised by, “Now What?”

I’d say many of us don’t like surprises. Sure we may like the odd ‘happy’ surprise – a surprise party, a surprise package on the doorstep, or maybe, depending on your situation, a surprise pregnancy. But, all in all, there are a lot of surprises we encounter that aren’t ideal.

“Surprise! You’re day is ruined because you lost your keys,” Or,

“Surprise! I’m divorcing you.” Or even,

“Surprise! You’re being promoted and you’re not ready.”

Wanted or not, when these things happen, we often ask ‘why?’ or perhaps ‘why me?’ But what if instead, we asked ‘now what?’ That seemingly simple question holds a lot of weight and it can lead to a place of hidden treasures.

Before I explain, I want to share a story of when, not all that long ago, I found myself asking that very question – now what?

need future with frame

My Surprise

I’ve walked on hundreds of roofs, but only fallen off one. And landing on my feet, breaking my ankle, and losing consciousness for a few seconds wasn’t something I had planned for that day. In other words, I hadn’t set out that morning prepared for my life to be drastically changed.

This paint job was the last of the summer, and urgency was the message of the morning. The rain from the night before had turned the decades-old cedar shake roof into a moldy slip ‘n slide. Rather than immediately tell my crew to get off the roof for their safety, I said, ‘hey, why don’t you let me try?’ My deluded confidence was blind to the signs of reality.

As soon as I stepped on the roof and my foot slipped a bit, I said, ‘We’re going to wait till this dries out.’ But as I made to get off, a single shingle gave way under the strain of my weight. My legs kicked out, my rear slammed onto the roof and I began to slide. My body curled over the edge and dropped 10 feet onto concrete. I landed on my feet, but then I rolled and came to a standing position.

I took my first step with my right foot, but there was nothing to hold me up. I fell to the ground instantly and things went dark and quiet. When I came to, I knew my ankle was broken.

I was seized by a searing new reality that my story was changing drastically.

Choosing the ‘Now What?’

I didn’t see it coming. Who does, right? That’s what surprises are. They sneak up on you. They say, “I’ve got you and I’m taking you for a ride!”

It’s “We need to let you go” when you’ve been a loyal employee.

It’s “I want a divorce” coming from the person you’ve raised kids with for the last decade.

It’s “You have a tumor” when you eat healthy and exercise 6x a week.

It’s “I’m turning 48 and just waking up to the fact I hate my career and the life I’ve built,” but you have no idea what to do about it.

Before you could see a future, but now, the future is filled with uncertainty. Your vision is blurred by confusion, worry and fears. Life is not going to go as we thought it would.

What we’re really trying to understand is not the why, but the what. What does this mean for my life now?

… Now what?

I believe that by God’s design, surprises of every kind hold treasures, if we go find them. I’m convinced they can be found. When you ask, ‘Now what?’ you’re daring to look past the immediacy of the surprise and look beyond to what your future might hold in light of your circumstances.

I will expand on ‘now what?’, changes, and transitions in future posts, but for now, I want to ask you:

  • Are you on a glorious and grueling journey to your own “now what?”
  • How has the ‘why?’ kept you from facing the fear and potential of “now what?”
  • Have you been able to catch a glimpse of the treasures that may be awaiting you?
  • Do you know where to look?
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