January 19, 2020

I started incorporating yoga classes into my life probably close to two years ago, but my ability to stick with it has largely been based on whether my grad school schedule and the gym class offerings aligned. I’m proud of myself for sticking with some at-home yoga as often as I have this past week or so. I was reflecting on my yoga practice today after someone asked me how often I do yoga and for how long each time. I finally found a video series that I’m really enjoying — one that both challenges me and doesn’t leave me completely twisted up in knots or feeling anxious about how much longer I have left in each session.

I’m proud of my yoga journey because I previously believed that I couldn’t do yoga because of my scoliosis. I believed that my spine was fused together in such a way that it was too rigid to bend in a forward fold or rest in a supine twist. However, God proved me wrong. I would even affirm that I am more flexible today than I have been for most of my life. I am strong. Both physically and mentally flexible and strong.

In yoga, many instructors lead the class through setting an intention at the beginning of each practice. The idea is to center the mind on a thought or idea, or even to focus simply on breathing. During the last year, the practice of intention-setting in yoga has led me to some very intimate moments with God. I would imagine much like the state that many long-distance runners feel when they get deep into their run and the initial burn wears away. Setting an intention helps me engage with clarity in my yoga practice. I choose not to focus on all the details – how strong or weak my legs feel, how long I can hold a plank, whether I’m daydreaming or thinking about every part of my body as it moves. Instead, I have focused some practices entirely on stillness, where I seek stillness in each posture, a quieting of sorts. Other times, God clearly told me it was time to wander so I started trying creative adjustments in my poses.

And the funny thing is, every time I set a yoga intention, God always asks me to carry it out into the world beyond my mat. So that stillness – well, I became still in my work and relationships for a while too. The very clear statement to wander was God asking me to embrace some discomfort, ‘put myself out there’, and remain open to the unexpected.

More recently, I decided to focus on intentions not only in my yoga practice, but in my daily life. Truthfully, I’ve had a journal for almost a year that was given to me by some friends focused on intention-setting and I haven’t used it. Until now. On some pages it has specific prompts or reflections, but on every page it also has this prompt:

“Starting today, I will…”

I really dislike the stigma that the turn of a calendar year is the best time to start something new. While there is a sense of building toward a climax during the end-of-year holidays and a release of that tension through the pass to the new year, I feel more compelled by God’s promise that His mercies are new every morning. Every moment. I don’t think it’s every too early or too late to make a change. Set an intention. Try something new. Restart something old.

I’m so thankful God has helped me find a way to take care of my body, mind, and soul through the movement and intention-setting of yoga. And I’m really digging this journal that encourages me to set a new intention every day, or as often as I open the journal (which, by the way, has not been every day). I have found a lot of God’s grace in yoga as I’m learning over and over the affirmation one of my instructors shares at the end of each class:

May you be gentle with yourself, patient with yourself, show kindness to yourself and kindness to others.

SET

After being nasty

In the past few weeks, I’ve been really challenged in the area of relationships. God has been opening many doors for me to spend quality time with friends. Where I would have in the past been reserved, God has encouraged me to take more risks in engaging others in conversation.

This has looked like asking, “how’s your heart today,” or “what’s been on your mind” instead of the automatic “how are you?” It’s looked like greeting people at the door at church, instead of waiting just inside for a familiar face to walk through. It’s been long talks floating on the water under the sunshine of the day.

And it’s also looked like additional space for the devil to enter in. As I’m learning to invest time and engage in more meaningful conversations, there are greater opportunities for evil to wedge himself between myself and others.

This — evil entering in — has looked like accidentally using a friend’s trigger word as a belief about her, casting on her a label that all her life has brought her to a dark place of brokenness, deep pain, perpetually being “not enough” and “too much” at the same time. This has looked like off-handed comments that throw shade at a friend’s behavior. This has looked like leaving an activity with one friend without saying goodbye to another, leaving behind confusion and disrespect.

These last few days, weeks, have been really hard. I’ve been nasty, caused so much hurt with some of my closest friends, and undoubtedly there are additional wounds that I’m not even privy to right now.

I know this new recognition of the pain that I’ve caused, and the courage God keeps providing me to text, speak in person, and make phone calls to own up to my mistakes are signs of growth. But I also need to change my behavior from the start to eliminate future bruises and scars. This is a painful process and I’m here to stand in the middle of it. To be refined in the fire.

Today, a friend called me out for leaving her behind without saying goodbye. The circumstances are too much to detail here, but it truly was wrong of me to say nothing in the situation. I called her the following morning to apologized after feeling the burden of having possibly wronged her. And when she returned my voicemail, she called me out. Hard. There were tears flowing from this girl who most often suppresses that kind of emotion, even from herself.

But friends, that is the the Church. The Church calls us higher, deeper, to more vulnerable and courageous conversations (Deuteronomy 31:6). The Church does not call us to safety (Psalm 46:2). I’m so thankful for this friend who could be so raw with me (2 Timothy 4:2). Who was not ashamed to deliver correction (Galatians 6:1). Who is confident in her Lord to know words that feel harsh can be delivered with care. And for forgiving me (Colossians 3:13).

And I’m thankful for the Spirit in us for increasingly calling me out in my sin, both in the quiet of our communion and in the voices of my friends, and for giving me patience to hear it (Proverbs 15:31-32). For a Father who is constant and consistent as a Father of both love and justice (Psalm 101:1). And for a Savior who has already paid the price of my, and all of our, sin on the cross and gifted us with new life (Romans 5:8).

God’s got me. In my utter brokenness. He’s got me. And so I hold onto this truth.

Thank you, God, that though we deserve eternal death you give us mercy. And though we don’t deserve eternal life, you gift us with your grace.

– SET

Life – Drain – Learn: April-June 2019

Hi friends!

I started a new reflection practice a few months ago after listening to an episode from one of my favorite podcasts, The Next Right Thing by Emily P. Freeman. I thought I’d share a portion of my reflections with you today.

The structure of the reflection that I adopted is to note aspects of your life that a) give you life, b) drain your energy, and c) teach you something new. While you could schedule time for reflection, I tend to be a pretty reflective person in my day-to-day thinking so I chose to just jot things down as they came to mind in my planner/journal.

I structured my thoughts under three headings and I’ll share just a few notes under each below.


Life —

  • Traveling to Montana in early May cleared my mind and gave me fresh perspective
  • Consolidating all of my learning from graduate school in preparation for qualifying exams made me excited about how far I’ve come in graduate school and hopeful for a career where I can apply what I’ve learned

Drain —

  • The act of completing my qualifying exams (i.e., writing for 4 hours straight for each of 3 days) totally took my mental energy away
  • *When close friends or family didn’t reach out to acknowledge things going on in my life I found myself feeling drained

Learn —

  • *Need to speak up (or more clearly) when I want something from other people and not assume they can read my mind
  • Stay curious about others – ask questions!

I think this structure for reflecting was a profound way to discover new things about myself. The notes marked with an asterisk are reflections I really didn’t expect to uncover through this exercise, or felt very surprised about when I considered which heading the thought I was having fit under. I will also say, not all of my personal reflections fit in one of these areas or sometimes they fit under multiple (e.g., Drain & Learn often overlapped for me), and I think that’s OK too!

I hope to continue this type of journaling over the next three months to document and possibly share additional discoveries. Do you engage in reflection or journaling? What works for you?

– SET

After 3 years of grad school

It is difficult for me to even write here anymore. What used to be a life-giving practice has been numbed by other things.

The thing about full-time graduate school (or probably part-time too, let’s be real) is that life becomes so complex. It’s a mighty balance of the internal forces (e.g., “this is my passion, I will grow from this) and external (e.g., “here’s your deadline, why can’t you come to family game night?”). Let alone God’s command against idols and to seek Him first (Ex. 20:3, Matt. 6:33).

Dang. If you’re anything like me, you feel stuck in the in-between. I have The. Hardest. Time keeping my priorities in order. Attending to what really matters. Life has been complicated by all the things our culture (really: my self influenced by my largely chosen context) tells us, gives us, takes from us.

As I’m preparing to defend my EdS thesis next week, and to take my doctoral qualifying exams in June, I am looking for a way. The Way. While the external forces – the major hurdles that lead to a degree that gives me the tremendous privilege to do work I’m passionate about – are pressing in deep, I need to be pressing in deeper to the One who put the passion in me first.

To bring my heart back to Jesus. This is simplifying. This is healing.

In Acts 19, and throughout this book, many people in many cities were confused about the Way:

But when some were stubborn and disbelieved, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, Paul withdrew from them and took the disciples and argued daily in the hall of Tyrannus. (Acts 19:9)

About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way. (Acts 19:21)

Apollos began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately. (Acts 18:26)

I’ll admit. I’m pretty confused, baffled, amazed, questioning about the Way as well. Jesus said he IS “the Way” (and the Truth, and the Life; John 14:6) to God and to salvation. But he also said the way was narrow and hard to find (Matt. 7:13-14).

And I know if you’ve been a follower of Christ for any length of time, you’ve probably already heard these verses and were encouraged and/or threatened by them because let’s be honest: with 7.something billion people currently on the planet, how the heck can I be sure I found the narrow way?! Or that Jesus actually picked me to be on that path?

Not sure. Don’t have answers here.

But what I do have is a sense that I’ve been off the path. There are so many loud voices right now encouraging us to simplify, declutter, detox, go minimalist, granola, eco-small business-organic-homemade-friendly. And none of these are bad. And none of them guarantee to focus on Jesus. Oops.

So after I become busy choosing to put myself in places that make me feel pressure (grad school, Instagram & Facebook, health and socially conscious friend groups), I’m not focusing on Christ. And my heart is more than hurting: it’s numb.

And while this isn’t really a post about the last 3 years of graduate school, it is about how my heart and faith have faded and numbed since leaving a deeply rooted college community that combined both faith and scholarship. It is to say that I became distracted and that God isn’t exactly, scientifically clear (to me anyway) about how to tangibly put him first in everything I do. And this is to say that I think it’s OK when we have insecurities about God and how we follow the Way.

If you’re in a place of uncertainty right now, I’m with you. If you’re on fire, pursue relationship with Christ and not just knowledge of Him. If you’re comfortable, ask God for something to shake things up a bit. Keep moving. The apostles Acted. They moved. Keep moving.

SET

Phone note #3

Phone note from October 2018:

Freedom from Fear.

For my whole life I’ve lived in fear of medical procedures. I felt such shame when conversation or tv shows about medical procedures made me anxious and physically nauseous, and felt even greater shame when annual checkups caused tears, verbal opposition, and fainting.

Today I got my annual flu shot WITHOUT TEARS (or fainting or a chaperone to hold me to it- thanks mom & college roommates) for the second time EVER!

After I started learning about my fear & relationship with it, sharing my journey with others, and laying down the shame, I knew the battle for freedom was already won. I started seeing changes in my life. Though the scientist in me would like a few more data points, my heart is confident this is what redemption looks like. I’ve seen God move mountains in this area of my life and I believe he does this in all our lives every day. He doesn’t fail us.

What I loved about my nurse visit today is that while I fulfilled my precautionary 15 minute waiting period (I’ve walked out of the office & fainted 10 min later in the past…) we just talked about how NORMAL it is to experience the neurologically-based vasovagal response that can include all of our “crazy” (read: sweating, feeling extreme temperature changes, reduced vision, ears ringing, feeling lightheaded, fainting) reactions to medical situations. And this happens to 6 foot 4 football stars as well as 4 foot 9 school psychs.😉

Moral of the story: Don’t let lies deceive you. The source of your fear, hurt, or shame is probably more common among people than you think. Which also means healing from these things IS possible. The redemption may not be on your timeline and it will likely be a daily battle in this life (my mom would probably agree almost 24 years of McDonalds milkshake & iced coffee bribes is not the most desirable timeline). And yet God keeps his promises to the end.

SET

A Love Letter to Money

In this post I’m taking a different approach by responding to a writing prompt I saw from an author on instagram:

Write a love letter to money.


Whaaat? Here goes…

Dear Money,

I’m not sure whether you deserve to be capitalized. You aren’t a proper noun, yet you have so much control in the world. In my life, too.

Something I think about often is your relationship with the Church. And the church. While Scripture never says that money, in and of itself, is evil, the love of money is (1 Timothy 6:10).

Love for you, money, leads me to put you before God. While you are a vehicle by which I can gain access to all sorts of things, you are not the giver of all things. You are what the world requires to increase in status, to access consistent or luxurious living conditions, and to purchase food, clothing, and clean water, and a heated home. You are not what gives me life.

Money, I’ve given you too much reign in my life. I’ve allowed you to captivate my thoughts:

“If I buy these shoes, I shouldn’t buy this dress.”

“If I go out for an açaí bowl, I shouldn’t get Starbucks this week.”

“I need to analyze how much I’m spending. Don’t splurge. Save save save. You’re on a grad student budget. You need to be more financially independent.”

And the thoughts roll on, like a record player that just keeps on spinning. But I don’t want you in my thoughts. Sure, its good to be conscientious about my spending and saving, but I should not be talking to you more than talking with God.

If my thoughts are focused on the Most High, my actions will be aligned with His.

Money, thanks for being there to help me have a safe, warm, consistent place to live and nourishing food on my table. Thank you for giving me access to earthly things that bring me joy, like an occasional iced coffee from Starbucks and gas and a car to get where I want to go.


God, I pray that my internal conversations would focus more on you than on the tangible things of this world. I thank you for the treasures you’ve given to me and humbly ask you to make me a wise steward of these things. Further, let me find greater value in the things of heaven, in each soul I encounter throughout each day. I pray that my thoughts and actions would be directed toward your vision and mission for your people: to love You, love others, and advance your Kingdom. Amen.

-SET