Sunday, July 30, 2017

Did I say that?

“I’m stupid,” I said as I pointed to the closet door in my office that was now stuck shut (again) due to summer humidity and the slight shifting that sometimes occurs in older buildings. Yes, I said that. Me, Jayneann.

Expressions like this were common at home as I was growing up. But since then, I’ve worked hard to leave behind such disparaging speech – both to others and to myself. While my practice is certainly imperfect, my saying this brought me up short.

I could make a case for saying it. I felt foolish about closing the door when less than two weeks ago, I’d shut it and had to ask for help getting it open. I should have known better!

Still, my point today isn’t that I unthinkingly reverted to a speech pattern I thought I’d left behind. It’s that this slip let me know I’d been pushing myself too hard. Earlier this month, I moved to a new (old, really) house in a different town and started a new job. The job’s fabulous. I’m enjoying it, but it’s also taking a fair amount of mental energy. And, when I’m not at church, I’ve been working on my new digs – mudding and caulking, cleaning, buying painting supplies, etc.

Mowing the backyard was the only time I spent outside last week which – for me – is a crying shame. In July, I’d almost prefer gardening to eating. And, speaking of eating, I didn’t do that well either.

Besides the “stupid” incident, last week I had the hiccups three times, eye twitches twice, and a few other twitchy moments. My body as well as my mouth were clearly sending me a message. And that message? Stop! Slow down! 

The stressors may not be bad ones, but they’re still stressors. At a time when a person needs to practice better self-care, I’d been giving myself less time. A friend once described this idea as a lot of straws stuck in a glass, all of them sucking out the water (or whatever). What had I been doing to make sure I didn’t run out? Not much.

So, Friday (my sabbath) I worked hard at doing less. I asked Kay to set up the hammock frame for me because every time I stepped outside to do it, I found tasks that distracted me. (Thank you, Kay!) As soon as I stretched out on the red and orange striped canvas, I realized how very tired I was. How do we not realize when when we’re in this state?!

This week’s calendar looks at least as full as last week’s. But I’ve been reminded that I’m not superwoman. I’m one small person with finite mental and physical resources. I still have to mud and paint, but this week I’ll make a point of eating regularly. I’ll sit outside and read in the evening once or twice instead of watching reruns on my tablet. I’ll drink plenty of water.

Maybe this isn’t the week when you need to focus on such things, but your time will come. Practice taking care of yourself now so that when it does, your mouth doesn’t get you in trouble and your body doesn’t have to complain in order to get your attention. You’ll be better for it and you’ll be better for those around you.
Be careful what you think,    because your thoughts run your life. Proverbs 4:23 (NCV)

Sunday, July 23, 2017


You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its saltiness, how will it become salty again? It’s good for nothing except to be thrown away and trampled under people’s feet. Matthew 5:13

For years, I avoided salt. I took the medical establishment at its word, believing it was bad for me. I baked with minimal salt, didn’t put a salt shaker on the table, and I did all right – mostly. I found most prepared foods to be excessively salty (things like pickles being the exception.) I’d also had low blood pressure for as long as I can remember, which tended to make me lightheaded and make everything go dark when I’d stand up.

A few years ago, a blood test came back with a low aldosterone level. Aldosterone? What’s that? My doctor seemed unconcerned (disinterested?) so I did some research on my own. It turns out aldosterone’s an adrenal hormone whose chief task is to “regulate salt and water in the body, thus having an effect on blood pressure.” Click! With more research, I figured out that just as I’d probably been sabotaging my body with my decades on a lowfat, whole grain (wheat) diet, I’d followed the wrong advice about salt.

I’m a salty person now, but I only use higher quality sea salt. (I get my iodine separately, but that’s another story.) The sea salt keeps my electrolytes balanced and I hardly ever feel the need to put my head between my knees anymore. (Working in the yard this weekend, I had to eat – yes, eat – extra to compensate for all the sweating that happened.) It may not be a perfect solution, but it works better than what I was doing before. Oh, and the sea salt tastes loads better than the other stuff!

Onto the theological...

I’m a rather practical person. And Jesus’ words about salt losing its flavor always puzzled me. How does salt lose its flavor? It’s salt – sodium cloride, NaCl – unless combined with something else like sulfuric acid (NaCl + H2SO4 = Na2SO4 + HCl).

Years later, I have other, bigger concerns to occupy my mind than wondering about a saltiness metaphor. But I also realize that contextually, it could have happened. In some places in ages past, the available “salt” would have contained plenty of other things – organic and inorganic. If it got wet, the salt could leach out leaving flavorless stuff that wasn’t good for much of anything. I’m glad I didn’t have to use that salt. (Dentistry is another reason I’m glad I live in this century.)

Of course, Jesus wasn’t offering a chemistry lesson. Maybe he was suggesting that we, the “salt of the earth,” aren’t going to lose our passion for following God any more than salt, true salt, is going to lose its saltiness. (Rather like Randy Travis’ old song, “Forever and Ever, Amen.”) Or maybe he's encouraging us, as in, “You don’t want to become a flavorless shadow of yourself. Keep loving God. And keep showing it by the ways to take care of the others.”

I’ve liked one exchange from Hook ever since I heard it. Maybe it’ll work for you.
Peter Banning: Now I want you to take care of everything that's smaller than you.
Thud Butt: Okay.
Too Small: Then who do I look after?
Peter Banning: Neverbugs - little ones.
May you be a blessing to all the Neverbugs in your life; and may you remain salty.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Practicing (and practicing) Grace

From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace. John 1:16

The other day, I was sitting down at the kitchen table when, out the window, I noticed a woman on the sidewalk turn and scold the preteen boy following her. “Don’t!” Looking closer, I noticed that he had just picked a stalk from one of the daylilies in my yard. Unfazed, he stepped onto the walk up to the house so that he could reach the daisies and picked one of those. As he walked away I saw that he was also holding a stem of red bee balm.

In that moment as they continued down the street, I had two thoughts. First, that he must have liked my flowers. This gave me pleasure as I’ve put many hours into turning my front yard (previously grass) into a garden. It’s still a work in progress, but I like how it’s looking and I want passersby to enjoy it. My second thought was on the order of “How dare he?!” Not so much, how dare he pick some flowers as how dare he pull out the entire stalk of daylilies. (If you’re not a gardener, let me explain. Each daylily blooms for only one day, but each stalk has at least a week’s worth of buds on it. When he picked the stalk, he removed more than the day’s flowers, but a few days’ worth of beauty.)

I didn’t stay in that place, didn’t dwell on it, just when about my business. But I had occasion to remember this feeling that evening. You see, in July and August, I sometimes go through the yard and snap off that day’s daylilies. Since they'll be spent by morning, I take them indoors to add color and fragrance to my evening. I have about ten varieties, so it can be quite a “bouquet” on the tray. Only this evening, as I carefully snapped off the flowers, I wasn’t careful enough, and at two different plants, I snapped off hands of buds. Oh! the tragedy!

And in those moments, I remembered the boy and how incensed I’d been at his carelessness. I remembered when Jay had picked flowers for me as a child, not always as I would have liked; and how I (thankfully) had practiced grace and thanked him with a big smile.

I thought of how this boy might have given his mother the flowers when they returned home and hoped that if he did, she too would smile and just say thank you.

Oh, God, thank you for the grace you show me in accepting me as I am, my gifts, and my shortcomings. Help me as I keep practicing grace. Maybe, someday, I’ll be able to skip the part about being offended, and just love the person, like you do. Amen.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Centered and in a Good Place

from "How to Meditate in 5 Simple Steps"
It’s only 2 p.m. but it’s been a glorious day so far. I got to lead worship at my new appointment where I was welcomed warmly, both during the services and with a meal afterward. I’m tired but it’s a good tired.

I used the story of Noah and the Ark (Genesis 7) to talk about the in-between time that’s part of healthy transitioning. That was one hefty neutral time! My transition pales in comparison, but I suppose that’s part of its purpose. We all have transitions from one thing that’s ended to something we hope’ll be good (and is sometimes even better) and we often lament that leaving the old and then waiting for the new is terrible. Sometimes it is. Only a cataclysmic event – like a 40 day deluge – could possibly compare with some of the ways that our lives have been broken. Hence, the story.

For the last two months, I’ve been anticipating, and dreading, my move. I knew it would be wonderful, but saying goodbye to all the folks I’ve come to love at the last place was harder than I’d expected.

For some weeks, I’d been counting on my meditation practice to help me sleep. I’d watch a show with Kay, brush my teeth; then I’d sit on the yoga mat in my bedroom for twenty or forty minutes quieting my mind. (If my mind has an “off” switch, I’ve never found it. Even as a child, I’d lay in bed processing the day … rehearsing future conversations … thinking …)

Anyway, last month, I had an epiphany of sorts – the good kind, not the kind where I fall and give myself a concussion J. Kay and I were in the kitchen. I’d said something that hadn’t set well with her and she needed me to understand her perspective. A fair request. But I wanted to fix dinner. The kitchen was messy – a stressor for me. Feeling overwhelmed and not wanting to get into an argument, I asked her rather passionately to go somewhere for a bit. We could talk later.

As background, my mother and brother had left that morning after a three-day visit. We’d had a good visit, but as soon as they left my inner-critic had reminded me of how much I still needed to do. I’d spend the day working in the yard, pressured to get the gardens to a point where they could maintain themselves when I left for Wausau. I was tired, dehydrated, stressed by my self-imposed timeline, and hungry.

My lovely daughter persevered. And I sat there on the kitchen stool trying not to explode. (After all, it wasn’t her fault I was in this place.) Using my meditation practice to help, I focused on my breathing and also closed my eyes whenever a wave of stress threatened to swamp me.

Amazingly, a few minutes into the conversation, I realized that I was doing better. I was actually hearing Kay through the noise of my frazzled state. I kept breathing slowly. Out. In. Eyes closed, I remembered where my center is. Eyes open, I focused on her plight. Out. In.

“Wow!” I though, “this meditation stuff really does work!” Halfway through our dialog, I was definitely in a better place. I could tell Kay that I understood where she was coming from. We made dinner and enjoyed the rest of our evening. Maybe I’m getting this human relations thing (finally!)

I guess I’m going to have to keep up this meditation practice…