2018: The year of “Balance”

Earlier this year on Epiphany Sunday, I drew my personal “star word” for 2018. I first heard of this practice from another RevGal, Rev. Marci Glass. (You can read more about it here.) For the last several years, I’ve chosen a word and used it for reflection. Just as God guided the Magi to the Christ Child, so God guides me.

This year, my word was “Balance.” My initial reaction was “very funny, God.” My second thought was, “ooohhhh, OUCH.”

This year has completely been about Balance. Balance about my health. About my family’s changing needs. About my adjustment to the day-to-day professional challenges of being a hospice chaplain. About wanting to be an advocate in the public arena. About leadership in a national non-profit. About choosing when to write and what to write about.

Balance.

You can call it “chance” that I ended up with that word. But I suspect that the Spirit knew what I needed to see hanging over my desk, day in, day out.  Do I have it all figured out? Am I now a truly “balanced” person? Well, no. But I can honestly say that I know now when I am out-of-balance and have to stop and get my equilibrium.

Recently, I made a decision to step back from a leadership role. There were many reasons, but the bottom line was that I recognized how out-of-balance the stress from that role was for me personally and spiritually. I’m not someone who backs down from a challenge! (If you know me at all, you’ve figured that out.) The health challenges of my body got my attention. The emotional stress reinforced it was the right decision. Self-care is sometimes very, very hard and I am too stubborn for my own good. (I write more about this here…)

I returned to the words of a song by Carolyn McDade which reminded me why I was out of balance. I was taking on more than God had called me to do.

“No woman is required to build the world by destroying herself.”

It’s not selfish to make choices for your own growth and self-care. It’s not irresponsible to say “no, I’m sorry, I can’t” to a request for a very good and meaningful cause. It’s not impossible to admit you can’t handle the toxic situation you stumbled into rather blindly. And most of all, it’s not a bad thing to fulfill your obligations – until you simply can’t do it any more.

And, beloved, when you find that “sweet spot” — that place of Balance — it is very, very good. Just the way we are Created to be.

 

Creating Space

It's a walk by faith and not by sight.

Rest when you’re weary.
Refresh and renew yourself,
your body, your mind, your spirit.
Then get back to work.

Ralph Marston

We are just around the corner from starting the final quarter of 2014. Almost nine months have elapsed since I received a “Star Word” – a word for reflection and application in my life for the New Year. (I write more about Star Words here – check it out!)

Now as my Jewish colleagues and friends begin the celebration of the Jewish New Year on Rosh Hashanah, I found it appropriate to reflect on my “Star Word” again. My word for 2014 is VITALITY – things that bring or encourage life and growth.

In my work as a chaplain, there are many times that I get frustrated or I am, quite simply, depleted. I have no emotional or physical reserves, because the work I do is one of listening and walking with others. I seek to bring perspective, hope, and sometimes, emotional and spiritual healing. There are days I get home and I just want to relax. But life has a way of asking more — and for the love of family and friends, I do try.

What gets me from day to day is remembering that I do NOT ever have to go, flat out, 1000%, hyper-focused on the needs of others. In fact, to be a good chaplain, I have to remember my own questions and needs. I am creating space where I can refresh and grow, and then pick up my work or my tasks.

Vitality means that I find the spark of joy and life around me. It’s learning how to see brightness on a gloomy rainy day. How to find humor in the most difficult times. And I am better at learning when to say, “I’ll be back with you in a bit” and take a breather.

As the seasons move from summer to autumn, I am spending time in my garden, weeding, raking, transplanting and trimming. I’m enjoying the last blooms on my rose bush, the end of the lush green in my yard. I’m seeing the migration of the hummingbirds begin, and the noise of the geese increasing.

I have carved out time to walk the labyrinth in our back yard. Standing or walking slowly, I note the changes that are beginning to herald the coming of autumn. It is beautiful. Refreshing. Renewing. And sobering. Wasn’t it just June, with humidity and mosquitos? I marvel at the way the months melt away.

I have a tendency to rush from one assignment to the next – when perhaps I need to stop and wind up a few thoughts first. So I invite you to watch for the signs of the turning of the season with me. And remember to REST. And then… get back to work.

In this season of refreshment, renewal and reflection, I am stopping for a moment to remember Whose I am, and Why I do the work I do. Perhaps this would be a good spiritual practice for you, too!

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To those of you who celebrate, I say, “L’shanah tovah!” May you indeed have a good year and a sweet one.

VITALITY: What has to go? Bug ugly snow!

CatnEReaderThis morning, I had time to sit on the couch, spoil a cat and read. It was a toasty, comfy, wonderful way to have my last cup of coffee before venturing out into the icy cold rain. (Literally “ice” and rain. UGH.)

I was grateful for those few extra minutes of reflection. As I finished up, I ended my prayer time with a quick phrase, just off the top of my head. Nothing profound; something like, “Lord, get my attention today.”

Well. You know God doesn’t let a prayer like that go unanswered.

I had a day of errands and meetings. Nothing earth-shattering but they were things I had postponed to the end of the week because it has been so blinking cold. And as I walked out to get in the car, I saw this:

ugh1The rest of the shovelled piles of half-melted snow, neatly draining away…

I was glad they were melting, particularly since the driveway and steps were covered with little frozen “beads” of raindrops. It is January after all. Winter weather is kind of expected. (I’ll permit all of you who live where it really snows to growl and gnash your teeth at me. As you were…)

I noted as I drove to my appointment that the only place I could see snow on the ground was on untreated surfaces and in places where where it had been allowed to pile up.

“…where it had been allowed to pile up…”

That phrase came back to me as I thought about places where I’ve let issues get “piled up” in my life. How losing weight is harder since I’ve let it sit on my body for so long. How changing habits related to studying and writing requires a crazy amount of effort to get over the inertia of just starting, for Pete’s sake!  How “the sin that trips us up” (Hebrew 12:1b) takes so much diligence!!

But progress is being made and I’m grateful. Eensy-teensy steps forward…

My star word for the year is VITALITY. And so I’ve been thinking about what that means for me in every area of my life. I’ve been filling out a “SMARTER” goal chart and doing some self-evaluation. All good stuff. And necessary.

EXCEPT… I was allowing myself to feel pretty good about “how I’m doing.” You know, thoughts like “well, I’m not as bad as I was!” Or… “At least I don’t struggle with ________ like s/he does!”

And then I saw this:

Ugh2

Well, now.

I asked God to get my attention. And this did.

I have been reading about the process of sanctification, perseverance and spiritual growth. Pondering how it all ‘works’ and digging through my own goals for 2014. And, truth be told, maybe feeling a little too comfortable with “how I’m doing.”

A big, ugly, discolored, stubborn pile of snow. That’s what sin really looks like. Not neatly shoveled snow piles on one side of the driveway, but big old, stained, discolored mounds of ugly. It’s not the kind of “snow” you think of when you think of being “pure as the driven snow.” It’s ironic that this was the picture God showed me, because I know all too well the verse from Isaiah 1:18:

“Come now, and let’s settle this,”
says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
they will be white as snow.
If they are red as crimson,
they will become like wool.”

In my self-righteous or perhaps (if I want to be kind to myself) self-deluded way, I had pegged myself as “not doing that badly.” When really, ugly is ugly. Sin is sin. There’s quite a list of “what has to go” towards truly having VITALITY in my life.

The glorious truth though, about faith, confession, repentance and forgiveness is that God really and truly does wash it all away. Because I am pristine, loved and lifted out of that mucky, mushy, icy mess that I think “isn’t so bad.”

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Thanks be to God.

Words to guide me: My 2014 Star Word

A basket of Star Words. Want one? Just ask!
A basket of Star Words. Want one? Just ask!

This year I have added two intentional spiritual practices that I’m really excited about:
choosing a “Star Word” and
meditating on a “watch word.”

I’m really excited about this “Star Word” concept and wanted to share about it. (I’ll be receiving my “watch word” later on this week and will share more when I receive it.)

My “Star Word” is from a list compiled by RevGal Marci (and others). They are, simply, words printed on stars. There are over 300 words on the list. The Star Words are used by some churches on Epiphany, the celebration of the arrival of the Magi to see the Christ Child. I sat and cut out these stars, thinking about what kind of impact they could have on one’s life.

1  After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the territory of Judea during the rule of King Herod, magi came from the east to Jerusalem. They asked, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We’ve seen his star in the east, and we’ve come to honor him.”

When King Herod heard this, he was troubled, and everyone in Jerusalem was troubled with him. He gathered all the chief priests and the legal experts and asked them where the Christ was to be born. They said, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for this is what the prophet wrote:

You, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
by no means are you least among the rulers of Judah,
because from you will come one who governs,
who will shepherd my people Israel.

Then Herod secretly called for the magi and found out from them the time when the star had first appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search carefully for the child. When you’ve found him, report to me so that I too may go and honor him.” When they heard the king, they went; and look, the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stood over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. 11 They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 Because they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their own country by another route.

 (Matthew 2, CEB)

 

Some times it takes a while to find your way. Some times you ask the wrong people, or perhaps have made the wrong assumptions. The magi went to Jerusalem because they were looking for a king. And where else would a king be but in the palace? In Bethlehem… hmmm…

The Star Words are an opportunity to allow God to guide you — not by what you can see, but by what God shows you. Your Star Word is just a word — consider how it might apply to your journey with God over the next year.

How do I live it out? Where is it lacking in my life? How does it relate to my life in general, as well as my spiritual life? These are the kinds of questions that I am considering as I pray about this word and what God would say to me about it.

My Star Word for the year is:  VITALITY

VITALITY – noun \vī-ˈta-lə-tē\
: a lively or energetic quality
: the power or ability of something to continue to live, be successful, etc.

There’s a lot to ponder about this… I am someone of high energy and focus. I like to be busy working, writing, engaging in tasks and plans. So that first part of the definition, I think I’ve got it down OK. The second part — what is it that I do that helps me be successful? What abilities do I have that would contribute to this for others having more vitality?

I’m looking forward to journeying through the year with this word..

WOULD YOU LIKE A STAR WORD? Leave me a comment and I’ll draw one for you! 🙂