Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Relaxing into the Dance....

Well, it just might be that the long-anticipated blogging about perichoresis is about to begin.

It started yesterday, with Don Miller's "What If?" challenge (by the way, I don't know what's up with Don's blog showing up as being suspended, but I hope it gets figured out soon). 

I spent some time processing Don's challenge and posted this reply yesterday.  It was striking to me that I would process all the scads of things that I would like to do for others ... and the thought about water just popped into my head.  I didn't see it coming ... Sarayu just popped that one in there to see if I was paying attention.  Since I type pretty fast, it got out of my thoughts on through my fingers before I had time to discard it.  Good one, Papa!

Here's the deal:  I have sensed for a while that my body is finally going to come out of this Decade of Decay and regain some significant vitality ... that is, before The Fall (no, not that one ... the one when I fell on the way to the mailbox and almost bought the proverbial farm).   While it did a good bit of physical damage to face and hands and knees, the worst of it has turned out to be a whopper of a concussion.  A year later, I'm still not 100% recovered. 

It has been quite a year ... one in which I began to journal in earnest.

Using a pen and paper, even.

And I'm still at it ... just got a new journal the other day (even found a purple one!)

Part of the concussion-processing has been a different kind of depression ... and that's a whole different story we're not going to talk about today ... through which Papa has been peeling back layers of stuff.  Stuff like disappointment and discouragement and isolation and loneliness and abandonment and guilt.  Stuff that has been hanging around for just about my whole life.  This, against the backdrop of processing Wayne Jacobsen's book, "He Loves Me" -- and trying to understand what it means to relax into Papa's love.

So here's the deal:  relaxing into Papa's love means living in expectancy rather than expectations.  To do that means to trust Papa's love for me and give up trying to earn it.  (It especially means giving up trying to earn the love and respect of others.  Yet another story for another time.  Get it straight with Papa first, or everything else is a no-go.)  Relaxing means recognizing that expectations are the doormat in front of the house of guilt and shame we have all built in order to survive in our harsh realities.  Paul Young has called this house The Shack.  We all have one.  No really.  Believe it.

Some of us have to get whacked on the side of the head (literally) to shift paradigms and let go of expectations.  (Please, don't be this stubborn ... unless that's the only way.  In which case, keep the Arnica, a cold compress and butterfly bandages handy.  And receive my heart-felt condolences.)


I have been stuck in my Shack and at a loss as to how to get out.  Looking back it reminds me of that scene in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone when Harry and Hermione and Ron are being strangled by a huge, root-like plant ... the more you struggle, the tighter it gets.  Hermione remembers from Herbology studies that the only way to get it to let you go is to relax.

This is where Don's post today comes in.  It is called "How I learned to like exercise..." -- which I have linked, but since the blog is not working, I'm going to repost it here (hope that's okay with you, Don!):
The first time I joined a gym the trainer worked me out until I nearly died. She put me on a machine and had me lift the weights in sets of ten, decreasing the weights each time, doing as many sets as it would take until I literally couldn’t lift an empty bar. She wanted me to know what a workout felt like, and wanted to make sure the initial work out was as hard as it could be, so I’d have something to compare my subsequent workouts to. I think she hated men. The result was that I could hardly get out of bed the next morning, or the morning after that, and I hated the gym. I associated the gym with pain and emasculation. And even when I went to the gym, unless I nearly killed myself, I felt like I hadn’t worked out at all. After a year or so, I just quit going.
Years later, though, I met a personal trainer at a coffee shop. He was hoping to write a book and I struck up a deal with him. I told him I’d give him some pointers on writing if he’d reintroduce me to the gym. He agreed, and I definitely got more out of the deal than he did. My trainers name was Dave, and he was great.
For our first workout, I showed up and he gave me a tour that stopped at the exercise bikes. We got on bikes next to each other and I started to pedal hard, trying to impress him. He quickly told me to slow down, to get my heart rate up to a level where I had to open my mouth to breathe, but could still talk. I did so, and it was pretty easy. We rode for about twenty minutes and then he told me to stop. I assumed we were going to move on to the real workout, but he said we were done. He told me to go home, that I’d done a good workout. I stood there shocked, nearly feeling ripped off. After all, I’d given him valuable information about writing, like the fact that books are often broken up into chapters.
Dave explained to me, though, that if I showed up at the gym and got my heart rate up for twenty minutes, I’d worked out. He said I needed to do that every day, and if I did, I had nothing to feel guilty about. He then told me to come back the next day, and we’d do the same workout, only increase it a little bit. The next day we rode for twenty minutes and he congratulated me on working out two days in a row. Then he asked if I wanted to do anything extra. I did, of course, so we ended up doing a mildly difficult workout with weights. Within a month, Dave was working me out so hard I once had to stop him and ask if I could go out in the alley behind the gym to throw up. And no kidding, he moved the rest of the workout into the alley so I wouldn’t throw up on his floor. But he kept working me out, always reminding me that what we were doing was extra, that I’d already finished my workout.
That was three or four years ago. These days, I almost never exercise for under an hour, and I exercise at least every other day, if not more often, depending on whether or not I am traveling. I love going for long walks or hikes or bike rides. What changed? All guilt went away. Before, I’d nearly kill myself and feel guilty for not doing enough. But now, I feel like anything over twenty minutes is extra. Before there was negative association with exercise, now there is positive association with exercise.
The same technique can be used with all sorts of areas in our lives where we are defeating ourselves. The question is, what constitutes a satisfactory job? What do we really need to do to be a good father, a good employee, a good wife, a good teacher. If we do that, we’ve done a good job, and anything else is extra. What you’ll find is you’ll do a whole lot extra, and feel great about it.
Any other tips on learning to like exercise? Or learning to do the things you don’t want to do?
Here's what clicked for me:  I have been trying to get to the "anything else is extra" stuff without getting the basic 20 minutes in.  You can only get the extra through the basic.  This is fairly simple, you think it would be easy ... but because something is simple does not mean that it is easy.  Not when you're stuck in The Shack.  Not when you have never really been good at taking care of yourself.  But when you have a husband and three growing boys and have spent 10 years in physical brokenness, everything gets broken.  And I do mean everything.  There is so much to do that it is just overwhelming to begin.  Wayne helped me learn to start by relaxing ... and I've been working hard at learning about relaxing for the past year.  Whew!  I had to learn the hard way (is there any other way?) that if I am not well, I cannot help my family be well.  (And that applies to spiritual family as well as physical family!)

Why is this so hard to get?  It this just a female thing?  I don't think so ... I think different folks just manifest the same struggle in different ways.

So, after doing great with my water drinking yesterday, I got up and did all the right stuff again today.  And after reading Don's post, I decided to go to the garage and lug the recumbent stationary bike out into the driveway and spend 20 minutes processing this with Papa while getting my Vitamin D fix for the day.

Not worrying what the neighbors driving by thought about the crazy woman talking and crying and cycling, I forged ahead.  After about 10 minutes, my legs began to tire (part of my problem is too many years of varying levels of muscle atrophy -- yet another story not going to be told).  But instead of stopping (or worse, continuing on and courting injury to already broken-down systems), I just dialed the tension on flywheel down to where I could keep the same pace without fatiguing the muscles.

I must have stopped every five minutes and dialed the tension down.  But here's what happened:  it suddenly dawned on me that it was perfectly okay to do that.  No guilt necessary.  There is no "exercise police" out there checking my work (or, more importantly, giving me a failing grade).

And while I was feeling the sun on my face, I decided to take off my glasses and just close my eyes and talk with Papa about what I've been learning in this ... when something else clicked:  it was like I was riding tandem with Jesus.  My job is to get on the bike and pedal.  I don't steer.  I don't pick the route.  I just get on and go wherever he's going.  Years ago I wrote about prayer as learning to walk with God, and I included that in my "Getting In Shape" segment of each day in my 40 Days of cHesed series on this blog -- and the idea of the tandem bike struck me, having ridden a tandem bike with Robert in the early years of our marriage.

Well ... long rambling story short:  the only way out of this Shack of mine is to let Papa dismantle it.  And the only way to get my broken down body back into shape is to start taking care of it at a pace that is appropriate for me.

Water first and foremost -- how many years have I been preaching about the myriad complications and symptoms of dehydration?  Duh....

And when the sun is shining, I'm gonna drag out my bike and ride for at least 20 minutes and see if I can't knock out this Vitamin D deficiency I've got going on, too.  Heck, even if the sun is hiding, I can dress warmly and pedal away in the garage!

What was that?

What happened to perichoresis, you say? 

Well, I've heard it's a Dance -- one in which I have to relax and follow Jesus' lead.  (Listen to Wayne talk about What do I do to live loved? at the bottom of the page -- the dance story is near the end, but the whole talk is worth hearing!)  And when I stiffen up, it means I'm trying to lead -- and boy that's tiring ... and fruitless.  So when I start cramping up, I dial my resistance down until I can relax into his love ... and away we go!

I'm sure that I will be processing the implications of this for quite some time.   But I'm going to keep my focus on the basics and let Sarayu take care of the extras.

Time for a water break!  ;^)


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Abi's Entry to Don's "What if" Challenge

I've had Donald Miller's blog in my Google Reader for a while now.  I have a great appreciation for what he has to say -- and how he says it -- even though I have not read any of his books.  (I am confident he won't take that personally because, well, he doesn't  know me and probably will never see this post ... and will forgive this poor abbess who doesn't have the time to read as she would like.)

The other day he had an amazing post up about acting on our "what if" scenarios ... and followed it up today with a challenge.  A challenge which I am taking.  Here.  In this post.

Well, at least I'm starting.  Now.

His point is this:  what if we actually starting acting on some of our "what if" thoughts and dreams.  Not the ones we cannot control ... like, what if I had a billion dollars.  No, more like what if I did not lose my temper with any of my children today.  That would be a good one, by the way.

The deal with the challenge is to make a list of, say, five "what if" ... and then pick just one and do it for a week ... just to see what would happen.

So, since this is a blog of the Abbess of the Purple Martyrdom, I am going to suggest five "what ifs" that have to do with some of the purple things in my life over which I might be able to assert some control.  Things that I could choose to do that would address issues of weakness, both physical and spiritual.  Things which have no answer but "my grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness."  Or perhaps "when I am weak, then I am strong."
  1. What if I accepted this season as a time in the desert, when outside distractions are removed so I can hear Papa's voice more clearly?
  2. What if I actually spent 45 minutes of each hour the boys are at school doing whatever I want to do (or not do, as it were) ... and the last 15 minutes doing what I've been too depressed to start?
  3. What if I actually spent the first 15 minutes of each hour the boys are at school doing what I've been too depressed to start ... and see if I start to lose track of time while Jesus dances me through my day.
  4. What if I trusted Papa's cHesed for me ... and chose to act with deliberate affection, unmerited favor and out of duty mutually owed to whoever Papa puts in my path.
  5. What if I stopped mourning the feelings of loneliness and isolation and let Papa's love fill up a part of my tank no human can fill.
Hmmm ... how about a little tighter focus?
  1. What if I choose to do only what I see Papa doing, joining his work, in my own heart?
  2. What if I choose to say only what I hear Papa saying to me, in my own heart?
  3. What if I choose to secretly do one special thing out of love for my husband and each of my children each day?
  4. What if I choose to care for myself more intentionally, even thought my body is 10 years into various levels of atrophy and won't turn around on a dime?
  5. What is I choose to hold only thoughts and intentions of love and grace and mercy in my heart toward those who come across my path?
I don't know ... what about one more try....
  1. What if I spoke with a cheery tone?
  2. What if I looked at others with a smile (and no wrinkle between my eyebrows)?
  3. What if I listened fully to my children?
  4. What if I relaxed and trusted Papa's love for me?
  5. What if I actually got fully hydrated again?
It's getting closer, I think.

Okay ... I know this might seem weird (but you are dealing with an AbiSomeone now!), but I am going to go with hydration.  I'm going to give my body the water it needs ... and trust that the Living Water will do its work in my spirit.

There ... I've said it.  I don't drink enough water and I'm going to change that this week.

When you take a drink of water, will you pray for me ... a prompt to take a drink, too?

...and consider taking this challenge yourself!


Monday, April 12, 2010

The Virtual Abbess and the iMonk....

Like thousands of others, I did not know Michael Spencer IRL -- I knew him mostly as the Internet Monk, or iMonk.  His rapid journey through the valley of the shadow of death these past four months has found me looking in at his blog more often than I have before.  I have not been disappointed.  If you haven't read what's been up over there during the past few days, please get a box of tissues (or an old cloth diaper, my favorite) and spend a couple of hours reading.  Really.

I am not sure what would bring me to blog about what's happening in my journey over the past year, but the loss of the iMonk just might do it.  We'll see.  So much about so many things that have been quietly filling up spaces in my heart and mind might be ready to be shared.  Or not. Yet.

In God's good time, eh?

In the meantime I join those who struggle with the paradox of sorrow and joy that accompanies the death of one of the saints (what I call the Christian Hasidim).  As C.S. Lewis said (and I so often quote):  we have been granted a severe mercy -- as severe as death and as merciful as love.

Rest in peace, iMonk ... and may Sarayu and Sophia wrap his wife and family and friends in the shawl of the peace that passes understanding.