Follow Your Breath

I do yoga sometimes. I love it. Sometime late last fall, I decided yoga needed to be a part of my self care regimen, especially with the impending winter. I’m not really strong enough to do anything impressive in the yoga studio, but I do love it, so I go.

A younger, more rigid version of myself might have rejected yoga as new-agey and spiritually questionable. Because, well, I knew everything back then. The older I get, the less I seem to know, in some weird reversal of how the world should work. I will admit that it’s also more peaceful this way.

Anyway, I was processing my spiritual experience of yoga the other day, and I landed on a concept that I just loved. One thing the instructor says throughout the practice is that your breathing should always lead your movement, and not the other way around. “Follow your breath,” she says. As we stretch up in full salute or bend at the waist in full fold, our deep, steady breaths should be the driving force.  It is a mindful and intentional movement, slow and purposeful. When I really bring my whole self to my yoga mat and take the time to follow my breath, it is beautiful. It’s certainly different than the harried woman I find in myself during lots of my daily activities.

I think the rest of my life needs to be more like this kind of slow, purposeful, mindful, breath-inspired yoga movement. I need to take more time to slow down, be more aware, be more awake, and let my actions flow from somewhere within me. Too often my days are ruled by the tyranny of the urgent. There’s seemingly no time to be led by my breath or to ensure that my actions are coming from an authentic place within me. This mindless busy-ness seems like a haphazard way of doing life.

Lately I’ve been a good deal more introspective than usual. I’ve been reading a fabulous book by Brene Brown and doing some good, healthy soul-searching. My extroverted self is not so prone to this type of quiet and somewhat difficult growth, and somehow I feel so grown up in the midst of it all. And I like it.

More specifically, as a Christian, I think this breath concept from yoga is giving me a really wonderful picture of what it means that “all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” (Romans 8:14) I have to admit that sometimes the role of the Holy Spirit in my daily life feels a little elusive. He’s sort of mysterious, I’ll admit.

Being led by the spirit is, I think, like being led by our breath in yoga. When we slow down and let our breath do the leading in yoga, it brings purpose and mindfulness to our movements. When we slow down and let the Spirit do the leading in our daily lives, we have more potential for moving through our day with purpose and grace. Instead of rushing from one task to another, I can breathe deeply and consider what God might have for me in that moment. Sometimes I might even feel drawn by Him to something specific- to call a friend, to ask for forgiveness, to notice His creation, or to simply slow down and enjoy something.

Today I’m taking longer, deeper breaths. I’m listening. I’m slowing down. And I’m letting my movement follow my breath, the Spirit, instead of haphazardly running from one activity to the next. And even though I might *know* a bit less as I age, I’m thoroughly enjoying the fact that strangely I’m learning more and more all the time.

We’ve Still Got It

A couple of Saturdays ago, I went to a rehearsal for an upcoming show entitled, Moms: We’ve Still Got It! Basically, it’s a diva review filled with a wonderful variety of songs, dances, and laughter. I, along with an amazing group of other mom/artists, will “celebrate motherhood, strut our stuff as women, and rock the house as artists” (as per the event description). And like I said, that Saturday was our first rehearsal! Yay!

It was a little dicey on whether I would make the rehearsal, though, because the great Stomach Bug of 2016 descended upon my household on that Friday, just after we arrived home from our road trip through Canada (that harrowing story a few posts ago!).

About 5 a.m. that Friday the oldest started throwing up, and after that the toddler was exploding in other ways. I’ll spare you the gruesome details. Suffice to say, we were a ragtag bunch by Saturday morning, but they all seemed perky and better in time for rehearsal (read: they were screaming and chasing each other around the house/ I was going a little crazy). I checked with the director of the show who said she thought it would be fine for me to let the kids come watch a movie in the corner while we worked. So I got brave (crazy? It’s a fine line), and loaded them up.

When we arrived at the venue, there was another sweet little girl there who belonged to mom/artist friend. Gulp. My friend assured me that she had already heard the situation and that it would all be fine. So I breathed a little and got to work rehearsing some of the numbers I’m in for the show.

After a bit of time, most of the women involved were gathered on the stage to work on one of the big group numbers. It is what I call “The Big Bossy Diva Number.” It was going swimmingly well until I noticed a white trail of something underneath my toddler, which he was proceeding to stomp and grind into the carpet. Hey parents, you know what the inside of a diaper looks like when it gets too wet and explodes? Like it’s snowing some kind of weird plastic gel? Yeah…

So there I am, practicing with a big group of incredibly talented women for the Big Bossy Diva Number, and there is my child …leaving a trail of diaper innards. I bolted over and picked him up, only to have the diaper explode down his pant leg and onto me and into his boot. I was flaming hot with embarrassment.

So I put him down right there by the stage per a friend’s suggestion, while one mom ran for a trash bag and yet another mom ran for the vacuum. Practice continued while we changed him, which was significantly more difficult than it sounds because that white gel stuff clings to skin, and vacuumed the white diaper innards. He ran off happily to play, oblivious, in just a sweater and diaper. And I tried to cobble together some of that elusive diva energy to finish the songs, shaking my head and laughing and wondering what “it” was that we’ve still supposedly “got.”

I survived it, largely due to the fact that every single woman there was herself a mom, and everyone either pitched in to help or offered support or humor which gave me the necessary grace for the moment. There are other friends in town who have offered other forms of grace- Pedialyte, Vernors and Saltines (the Michigan cure), groceries, chocolate covered bacon (!), flowers, hugs, encouragement, and prayers. So when the middle child, the only formerly healthy child, started throwing up the next day, I just laughed and rolled with it, and I asked yet another friend bring me Pedialyte… the third supply. I have been utterly overwhelmed recounting the sheer number of friends who showed up for us that week, and who always show up for us. Hubby, who was in Japan at the time, told me I needed to write this down for myself so that I can use that reminder next time I feel lonely. Which happens even to me, an avowed extrovert, because Michigan winters are long and grey.

I think the rough weeks are often when we really shine for each other as community. I mean, the good times are obviously welcome. I’m thankful, beyond thankful, for how smoothly life can roll along at times. But honestly, the rough patches are where we as humans seem to do a better job at showing up for each other. Maybe it’s because we see a need we can fill, whereas in the easier times we don’t feel quite as useful. Anyway, I agree with the proverb that says “a friend loves at all times, and a brother (sister? ;)) is born in adversity.” (Proverbs 17:17)

Sometimes it just goes like that, when every little thing goes crazy or wrong or ridiculous. In the aftermath, I pondered that phrase: “we’ve still got it!” And while yes, I think we are all still artists and rockstars, I think we also still have something that is even more important: each other. We have our sisters, by birth, and by friendship, and in Christ. On many occasions, we can have the privilege of meeting each other’s tangible needs. And today I’m thankful for that.

Acquainted With Grief

Yesterday I had a horrible, no good, very bad day.

My oldest had decided to fight an epic battle of the wills with regards to his willingness to attend school. My youngest has had diaper rash so bad that I think it has scarred him emotionally and causes him to kick and scream like a maniac, making me the target of his fury. My middle had a field trip that shortened his three hour school day by over an hour. My husband had a 730 morning meeting so I was solo. And it was snowing. It is April.

To use the extra hour, went to Starbucks again. Because those little cups are so adorable, I don’t care if the kids are covered in chocolate for the rest of the day. And then I cried on the phone to my mom. I cried on the phone to my friend. I cried when I randomly bumped into a friend.

Some of those issues were worthy of some tears. But here’s what was really bothering me. A year ago, I was losing a friend to cancer. And this year, in the same month, I’m preparing to help direct a staged reading of a show entitled “Starting Monday,” on Monday April 18th. The show is a beautiful, hard, deep, long look at a friend walking through losing her friend to cancer. I can’t make it through the script without weeping. I can’t make it through this sentence without weeping. When I was asked to help with this “Starting Monday” project, I knew it was for me. I think it is hugely important. And it is also extremely difficult. Death is so hard. Even as someone who believes in life ever death, it’s just… It’s heavy. And dark. And personal.

My friend who died last year had not even been in my life for that long, comparatively. But you know how I roll. Fast moving and deep friendships are my jam. You’ll know my whole life story on our first visit. And I’ll keep pestering you until you share yours soon enough. I adored Nicole. She was easy to adore. And I miss her.

Here’s something that I ponder. Our culture isn’t great at dealing with death. Some cultures are, I think, better at this. They allow grief to take its natural course, whereas I think some Americans like to make grief tidy. We like to make the grief process fit a model with five neat steps, on our timeline, and we dislike anything that seems abnormal. We dislike feeling a fresh wave of grief when we think we shouldn’t.

So I realized that much of my trouble yesterday stemmed from the fact that I was experiencing a fresh wave of grief for my friend. I acknowledged it. I felt it. I couldn’t fix it, so I shouldered through, not very gracefully. We muscled through bedtime and zoned out with silly tv and wine. Super productive grieving? Nope. It just is what it is, people.

I can’t really say that I have the answers here. There is no way to patch it up and make it look pretty and spiritual. If nothing else, for me, Jesus is in the midst of the uncomfortably long and sometimes surprising process of grieving loved ones, because he was “a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.” And today that’s enough.

(I miss you Nicole. Thank you for all the ways you continue to impact me today.)

Sometimes you gotta Psalm 23 it

    The lack of blogging last week was due to a whirlwind trip I took with my three boys. It was spring break, and unfortunately Hubby’s travel schedule had placed him in Japan over our break. I had already decided to forgo the spring trip to Florida (I was trying to be practical, but boy did I regret this initially…), but I felt we needed a change of scenery and some kind of adventure together. So when I figured out that my friends in Rochester, NY were only about 6.5 hours away, I concocted a crazy plan to go see them. By myself. With the kids.

    The route to Rochester was shortened by two hours if we were willing to drive through Canada. That’s right people, I live so far north that Canada is a stone’s throw away, and passing through it actually makes some trips shorter. Insanity. I decided that a two hour savings was totally worth it, and I got to work on making sure I had necessary paperwork in order. My passport, their birth certificates, a permission slip from daddy, and a partridge in a pear tree. You know, the usual. I signed up for AAA so that I could be towed or helped if needed, and I contacted all necessary insurance and credit card companies. I printed out a Google maps travel route, just in case, and organized everything neatly in a special folder. I packed enough food for a small army, a bin of movies for our portable DVD player, and the basic other necessities. Monday morning, we were on our way!

    The kids were excited for the adventure and we even made it about two hours without any movies. Of course, baby started yelling something about going HOME about an hour in, but I tossed some food his way and trekked on. It started drizzling rain right away and didn’t really stop, but we were doing fine.

    We made it to the Canadian border and I was more than a bit nervous, having never done this sort of thing before. It’s one thing to get on a plane by yourself with a passport. It’s another thing entirely to have three little people to bring along, in the car, through a border crossing. I was pleasantly surprised how straightforward it all was. The border agents on both sides were the perfect combination of thorough, pleasant, and efficient. They asked, we answered, they checked our paperwork, and then suddenly I was driving into Canada! It was more than a little exhilarating, and I may have been giggling a lot. I was just proud of doing that. The only adult in the car. I felt brave.

    As we drove into Canada, it was still raining, and the little one started getting very antsy. I tried to distract him a bit further by pointing out what I saw along the way. “Look at the rain, little man!” and then, “Huh! Look at that rain! It’s sort of clumping up!” and then, color draining from my face, “huh… That rain is looking a bit like…” Yep, snow.

    I really don’t know how I neglected to check the Canadian weather in all of my meticulous preparations for the trip. I checked the weather at home. I checked the weather in Rochester. It was the end of March. Nothing seemed to me like it could possibly indicate SNOW. The thought never even occurred to me, because southerner.

    But there I was, in Canada, driving myself and my three young children, and it was beginning to snow in earnest. Sideways blowing snow, covering the trees and streets and street signs– blinding type of snow. Turn-flashers-on-and-drive-like-grandma type of snow. I began to freak out a little bit, internally, and I started reciting Psalm 23 under my breath, repeatedly. I mean, I probably left out some words and mixed the NIV with the old school Thous and such, but the gist of it was there. (That’s often the Psalm I go back to when I’m scared. I remember once a youth group mentor reciting it with me on one of my first roller coasters.)

    I was clutching the steering wheel so tightly that my hands were getting sore. My whole body was getting sore, actually. And my mind was alternating between “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,” and wondering what in the world my options were. I decided that getting away from the lake a little and then stopping would be good. We could get gas, turn on a movie for the boys, take a look at the phone for some ideas, and make a plan. The only problem was that the street signs were so covered in snow that for a while I could not find a sign for a gas station. So I kept white-knuckle driving until I found one.

    Finally, I found a gas station (full service stations still exist in rural Canada!) and got my act together a little. I put on a movie, used a nice bathroom (highly necessary), and asked the helpful man if he thought I would die if we drove on east (me? exaggerate? surely not). That poor man didn’t know how to handle this dramatic American, but he was very kind, offering suggestions on safe driving but assuring me that he couldn’t really make that decision for me. With my only other option being finding a random hotel and being stuck in the middle of NOWHERE in Canada (it is very sparse between Michigan and London), I just decided to trudge on. It kept snowing. I kept Psalm 23ing and clutching. And mercifully, somewhere around London, the snow turned back into a more manageable frozen mix.

    The rest of the trip went relatively smoothly, even with constant light rain. Before we knew it, we had crossed back into the good ole USA, covered in chocolate and every snack imaginable, landing safely at our friends’ lovely home.

    During our visit we enjoyed special adventures for my boys, time with their spunky and loving rescue pup, and walks and hikes on the loveliest spring days. Uncle Steve, a title which we decided he quite earned this week, took on the role of substitute daddy complete with soccer duties, made up card games, a special building project, and evening wrestle time before I tucked the exhausted boys into bed. Aunt Ashley took us on picnics, fed us delicious foods, introduced us to an amazing museum, listened patiently to endless questions, and helped us explore the area. And they made us donuts, people. Their home was so cozy and so restorative, it was like a breath of air for my soul. Their company and the way that they exude calmness and grace was equally as comforting. Each night we would put the kids to bed and then cook up some kind of amazing adults-only type of dinner, from risotto to shrimp and grits etouffee, complete with wine and real conversations. I can’t tell you how absolutely worth it our trip was.

   Isn’t it often that way? The insanity of a trip leads to something well worth the difficult journey. I mean, I can laugh now and did laugh about it over a glass of wine with my friend, but in the midst of the snow, I was absolutely terrified. I have had experiences in life where Jesus, the good shepherd, has led me through some harrowing experience and I have felt with the psalmist, “He restoreth my soul!” There are other journeys in life that are longer, interminable-feeling, with a destination that is not quite as clear. Those are times when I lean harder into the “Thou art with me… Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me” bit. And there are still other journeys where the lush destination will not be attained in this world, as was the faith experience of so many of God’s people (see Hebrews 11). Even then, though, we can remind our souls that “surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

    And that is why I figure sometimes you just gotta clutch that steering wheel and Psalm 23 your way down the road, trusting that the destination will be worth it.