Repenting of Excess: Spend Less

A month or so ago, my husband and I got to share a hilarious/awkward moment of working together. We were in a strategic planning meeting with our church’s pastoral leadership team. We were discussing the themes of the Advent Conspiracy and if/how we wanted to use them in our Sunday services this December. The themes of the Advent Conspiracy are to preach on four topics: Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More, and Love All. The AC is put together in the hopes that this focus will help participants refocus Christmas on Christ, not consumerism.

In discussing who should/could preach on what topic, my wonderful husband said, “Yeah, I don’t really connect with ‘Spend Less.'” I almost spewed my mouth full o’ coffee all over the table crying out, “That’s because it’s the one you struggle with the most!” Before I’d even processed what had just happened, laughter erupted around the table, and my husband turned red and hung his head in shame. (Bum-bum-buuuuuum. #wifefail.) The other two pastors did not have the blessing of getting their wives’ live commentary on their thoughts, and both of them pretty much said, “Busted!”

After denying it, the truth won out, and a few days later, husband confessed I was right. This morning he preached on it, and it was convicting–convicting because the person preaching the message fully understands the struggle.

The challenge was to turn away something to turn toward something better, depending on where we most struggle in the struggle to spend less (to spend less time/energy/money focusing on ourselves, to spend less time/money/energy trying to meet everyone else’s needs at our own expense).  Based on a story of John the Baptist in Luke 3:3-14, the takeaways were the following:

  • How can I give more out of my excess?
  • How can I make caring for the less fortunate more of a priority?
  • Am I willing to pursue contentment with my life as it is?

Big questions. Ones we’ve been wrestling with for awhile. We have a big house. We have way too much stuff. Even as we get rid of stuff, we’re always magically acquiring more, and it feels like we never get ahead. And while we want to care a lot about people that are less fortunate, in reality, a significant chunk of money goes to maintain the big house and take care of the stuff and get new stuff and get insurance to protect all the stuff.

This is bondage. This is broken. Something needs to change. This road, in our case, is leading to lots of discontentment, because we’re tired of our stuff owning us.

Seven-by-Jen-Hatmaker

It’s because of this feeling that we started reading this book this summer. 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker. This book should come with a warning label that says, “read me only if you want to wreck your life…in a painful and beautiful way.” I totally recommend it if you’re discontent by the piles of excess in your home, schedule, budget, DVR, etc.

So far our journey has started small. Last week, we dug through our closet sorting out nice clothes and shoes that we don’t really wear to give to homeless people in Seattle. It was hard to say goodbye to a 3 year old coat that doesn’t quite fit right, or a pair of shoes I haven’t worn much because they’re a size too big. It’s hard to say goodbye for some reason, but as soon as the silly stuff is gone, I never miss it.

We want this something small to snowball. We have a hard time taking the time to do the hard work.

The Christmas story is a good reminder to simplify. Mary and Joseph didn’t have a pack ‘n’ play or travel high chair (although I’m guessing they might have enjoyed an Ergo or some nice panniers for the donkey). Baby Jesus wasn’t brought into the world with 52 hand-crocheted baby blankets and colorful sleepers of all sizes awaiting him. And somehow he managed to save the whole world.

Husband and I still feel compelled to do what we can to change the world for the better. Repenting of our stuff and throwing a lot away is step one. In this season of acquisition, it’s even harder. But I guess repenting of the excess and seeking to give it away is my first prayer of Christmas.

40 Acres and Late Night Drives

I don’t remember the last time I took a late night drive just because.

Tonight I took one because I needed to get out of the house. It had been me and the baby in the living room for most of the day, and I needed something to get me off the couch.

So at the late hour of 6:30 (ha!) I loaded my fuzzy dino pj’s and knit sock monkey hat-wearing boy into the carseat and headed 30 minutes north to the Co-op. For some diapering supplies and a bit of grocery shopping.

I wanted to listen to worship music in the dark in the car. I almost never want to listen to Christian music, and for whatever reason, I tend to want to when I’m sad. I’m not really particularly sure why I was sad, but I was. And a late night drive and some worship music fit the bill.

At some point, a guitar riff started, and I thought it was Ryan Adams. Only that wouldn’t make sense because I’m PRETTY sure that Pandora wouldn’t play Ryan Adams on my “Glory Revealed” Christian worship station. And it turns out, it wasn’t Ryan Adams, it was another one of my favorites. It was Caedmon’s Call, “40 Acres.”

My eyes welled up. Because the song helped me finally realize what I was feeling and why I wanted to listen to worship music in the dark. The feeling of sadness mixed with loneliness that I was carrying in that moment was the same feeling I used to have when I’d listen to that album 12 years ago. Then I was a different girl: a college freshman in Indiana, filled with expectancy and pain and hope. Now I am a mom and wife in Washington, filled with expectancy and pain and hope. And it was the same set of lyrics:

There’s 40 acres and redemption to be found
Just along down the way
There is a place where no plow blade has turned the ground
And you will turn it over, ’cause out here hope remains
‘Cause out here hope remains…

The song was a gift tonight, reminding me that in the moments that I’m sad, that the same God is here as was there. Reminding me that my life is on a trajectory, and that each of these places is a part of the story. Reminding me that it’s all connected. Reminding me I’m not alone.

What is it about the Olympics?

What is it about the Olympics that’s so freaking inspiring.

I mean, I spend two years wandering the world relatively sedentary, and then the stupid Olympics come on, and I’m like, “I need to get off the couch and do something and become champion of the world!” Never mind that most of these champions are barely past puberty, have private tutors and do nothing but practice 15 hours a day. (I know how it works. I’ve seen The Cutting Edge a time, or two, or 17.)

When I was little, it was always figure skating that got me excited. (Toepick!) But what self-respecting tween in the early 90’s couldn’t want to be a figure skater with all the drama/conspiracy/creepy ex-boyfriends knocking out your opponents.

Then by 1996, I’d matured to Gymnastics, because, hello, I was old enough to be a qualifying member of the Magnificent 7 even though I was probably already 3 inches too tall by then. If only I had started gymnastics at age 4 instead of ballet, I could have been limping my way to a Gold Medal.

I skipped a few Olympics over the last decade, I think for lack of cable and a husband who finds the Olympics about as exciting as watching QVC. I don’t know what his problem is. Something about the schmaltzy stories being melodramatic and contrived and something about not understanding anything about Curling or Rhythmic Gymnastics. But then again, as I say, I don’t understand how he can spend hours reorganizing his weaponry and special abilities on every single video game, so we remain, in effect, a mystery to each other.

But good news! Husband’s out of town trip this year happened to coincide with the first week of the Olympics! So baby and I can watch to our heart’s content! Baby seems to like water polo. I think this is because he sees the bonnets and thinks it’s a bunch of babies playing with toys in a giant bathtub.

And this year, since I purchased a bike exactly 15 days ago, I am convinced it’s not too late for me to become an Olympic cyclist. I spent most of Saturday and Sunday watching the Men’s and Women’s Road Race and wishing I was on the streets of Surrey County waving my little American flag as a herd of riders with giant thighs and stretchy pants blurred by on their way up Box Hill. Then I got inspired by the 30-year-old former Leman Brothers employee who made the Olympics and the 38-year-old who won the Men’s Road Race! I’ve been out cycling a few times this week, and as the baby’s screaming and tugging on his much-hated dinosaur-decorated baby helmet, I pretend he and his chariot are helping me train by creating drag to make me stronger.

So what if the gymnasts could biologically be my daughters. In 2020, I could still go to Madrid/Tokyo/Istanbul and become one of those crazy Olympic stats: “If Heather completes this race, she would be the first mother of 4, former ballerina to qualify for Olympic cycling in a year containing no odd numbers.”

Here’s to the Olympics, the stuff dreams are made of.

Aside

“A single moment of absorption in God is more valuable than a longer period of prayer during which we are constantly in and out of interior silence. It only takes a moment for God to enrich us.”

Thomas Ryan, C.S.P. Prayer of Heart and Body

Motherhood is Union

I’m sitting on the couch with my 6-week-old son asleep on my chest in the Moby carrier.  Even with how much I long for more than 4 hours of sleep in a row, I try to breathe in and out slowly, savoring the moments, being present.  I know from the looks I get from women thirty to fifty years my senior that even in the sleeplessness, these are moments to be cherished.  When I see them looking at my son, I know they miss their babies.

I didn’t expect my yoga practice to be a place that would remind me of the sacredness of these moments with my infant.  I just completed my second of 16 weekends of Yoga Teacher Training.  Each weekend’s training is 10 hours long, with 4-6 hours of asana (poses) and pranayama (breath) practice and another 4-6 hours of discussion and teaching about the other tenets of yoga practice.    After we complete our time of asana & pranayama practice, we take a few minutes to journal.  I have been surprised that during these journal times, what springs to mind is not my hamstrings, my back, or my feelings about my class; what springs to mind is my feelings about my son.

I keep finding myself journaling about how much I love and miss my son.  As I’m learning about yoga, this progression is so obvious, because yoga is the practice of union: union of the body and breath, union of the pieces of myself that are scattered about, and my union with God.  Through this time of practicing union, I long to be with the boy I have physically carried with me the last nine months and carried close in my heart for two years prior.

Right now, as he and I live life together, he’s entirely dependent on me for survival…I produce 100% of the food he eats.  In this way, he does not yet feel like his own person, but feels much more like an extension of me.  I read somewhere recently that infants often learn to say “Da Da” before they learn to say “Ma Ma.”  The theory of the author is that infants recognize dads as someone separate from themselves but their mothers are an extension of themselves and they don’t identify them as a separate person until later.

I know that most of my son’s and my life will be lived separately. He’ll move away and have his own family, and for most of the days of his life, I won’t be with him. His journey is already one of learning to let go.  At first he lived in me, and now he lives in my arms, and in a just a few months, he’ll start to leave my arms and live in my house… and eventually he won’t live here anymore either.

That’s tomorrow, though.  Today, I celebrate the union of my relationship with my son.  One of the definitions of yoga from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is “yoga citta vritti nirodha.”  Yoga is the cessation of the waves of movement in the consciousness. The union comes in the place of stillness, where everything stops.  Tonight, I relish in union with my son, who’s breathing in and out on my chest.  I can do this only because I’ve ceased all movement and live just now in the now with him. (With a slight pause to write this blog about it, thus momentarily negating the union.  Eek!)

So, back to it.  May this week be one of peace and space and a cessation of movement of life’s busyness to be still and be with the ones I love.

Mommy Ministers Get a Shout Out In USA Today

This article isn’t much for substance, because it doesn’t really differentiate anything that’s more complicated for mommy ministers than for regular working moms.   I do, however, find it interesting that there are enough mommy ministers out there that USA Today decided to highlight them pre-Mom’s day.   You can read about it here.  (h/t Youth Specialties)

On Solitude

Yesterday morning, I arrived at the coffee shop where I meet with my friend and coworker weekly for coffee and ministry discussions.  We’re both at a similar place in life — married and in ministry in the same small town, working with both our local churches and our para-church youth ministry.  We both look forward to this time to connect and talk and be encouraged by having a friend looking at life from a similar vantage point.  She happened to be running late due to her previous meeting running long, and I was presented, for the first time in a long time, with an empty spot of time in a coffee shop, Jack Johnson singing overhead…just me, a fresh cup of coffee, an empty journal page, and a stack of books.  All the while, my baby boy is rolling around in my belly, elbowing and kicking (ever-so-gently…thank you 21 weeks!)  reminding me that life as I know it is about to change in a drastic way.

I often get nostalgic when I’m alone in this particular coffee shop, because 7 1/2 years ago, when I interviewed for my ministry position in small-town Washington, I spent an afternoon alone, journalling at this same coffee shop, trying to discern if I would move to this town.  Over the years, the coffee shop has changed from a country-western theme to a more normal contemporary coffee shop, but the barrista and the coffee are still the same.  And 7 1/2 years later, it’s still me in the coffee shop, but it’s not the 22-year-old, recent college grad looking for the adventure of real life, it’s a 30-year-old, married, homeowning, mom-to-be.

Sitting in the same coffee shop, journal and pen in hand, feels grounding.  I suddenly feel centered and able to look at my life from a bird’s eye view, with a wide scape of understanding of where I’ve come from and been over the last 8 years.  I pull out Ruth Haley Barton’s Sacred Rhythms, which I’ve been reading slowly over the last 8 months with a spiritual mentor.  This month’s chapter is on discernment, which Barton describes a spiritual practice we use in combination with a self-examination, in which we take a bird’s eye view of our lives to assess where we are in regards to God’s will.

In the midst of this time and space, I’m aware of how much my soul longs for this kind of solitude, and how lately, I’ve not made it a priority.  In the course of just 45 minutes, my soul is refreshed, my heart inspired, and my spirit renewed with hope.  Again, baby boy kicks me, and I write in my journal, “4-5 more months, and then everything changes.”

I begin to wonder how a mom can have a morning alone in a coffee shop when there’s a baby to care for.  I wonder how a mom can make it to yoga class a few nights a week for physical rejuvenation.  I wonder how a mom can pursue motherhood, solitude, and a healthy marriage all at once.

The Lord doesn’t necessarily respond with a road map for these questions, but He does remind me that nothing can ever or will ever be able to replace time alone with Him.  And in the refreshing of my true self, I realize there’s nothing like the blessing of time in solitude with Him.  In my journal, I commit the next 4-6 weeks to actively pursuing the disciplines I’ve been reading about in Barton, through Solitude, Lectio Divina, Breath Prayer, Yoga and Self-Examination…all of which is a part of the process of transformation the Lord’s been calling me to this year: towards a deeper intimacy in relationship with Him which will hopefully lead to a deeper awareness of and discernment of His will.  This morning, Barton said that being open to God’s will means honestly being willing to be open to the Lord’s leading to anything–absolutely anything…and that solitude is the most important discipline in honing our understanding of His voice.

What does it look like for a mommy minister with young kids to pursue solitude?  I don’t know yet…but this morning I was wooed again to time alone with the Lord and firmly reminded that no matter how full life gets, solitude must still be a part of it.