From Eden's Dirt

Hope through despair. Faith through fear.

Emotional Constipation

I’ve never been good at holding anything back. A big part of my life story involves my big emotions and my tendency to dump them on others. I feel the most guilt about negative emotions, of course. Emotional tirades have been an issue for me since childhood. When I didn’t get what I wanted I let people know. One of my earliest memories is of going, or maybe being sent to, my room crying this loud yelling cry that I’m really good at. (Yes, still.) As I made my way to my room after some kind of argument with my mother I heard my father say in a frustrated voice, “What’s the tragedy now?” And he was right. He was right that I acted like everything was a tragedy, and he was right to be frustrated by that. I know because this is one of those situations where my parents got some payback. My kids do it too. My boys in particular are both especially good at building entire mountain ranges out of a few mole hills.

              Of course as I’ve grown I’ve learned that people don’t want to hear my tragedies. Frustrated comments like the one my dad made peppered my childhood, but when I got older and my problems got bigger, and I still threw my big emotions around, the emotions themselves became my problems. I had no problem crying loudly in the hallway in high school when my boyfriend broke my heart, but the snickers and mocking remarks of passersby still sting to this day, and I doubt my presentation was very attractive for my boyfriend either. Yet whenever I tried to hold back, whenever I just kept the feelings inside, or wrote them in my journal without telling someone else, I kept feeling them twenty-four hours a day. I just carried them around with me and I was constantly aware of them. I’m not someone who can pretend these things aren’t there. So then, when more bad things happened, I added more big emotions to the heap of others sitting inside me, and I felt ALL of them at once. Over time the emotions became impacted. I’m not talking about years of piling these things up; I never lasted that long without exploding. But the emotional constipation hurt like crazy, and when I finally got it out, it felt great.

Until it didn’t, of course. Because no one wanted to hear how bad I felt. I get that. It’s never comfortable when someone unloads a pile on you, even when nothing you’ve done is in the pile. The problem is that because I feel every emotion in a big way, when those big emotions get impacted, those hurts start telling me what to do and who I am. I start wanting to hurt people, sometimes even physically. I start thinking about how much I hate certain types of behavior that hurt me, and then I see it in everyone I meet. I become paranoid. Why is he looking at me like that? Does she think I’m too fat to be wearing this? Maybe my husband is cheating. I bet he is. That’s why he doesn’t like it when I rummage through his bags. I’m so ugly. No one should still get zits at 37. I know it – I’m sick. I have cancer, or an auto immune disease. I have psoriasis, so it’s definitely auto immune. WebMD says I need emergency treatment. But the people in the emergency room always send me home. I irritate them. They don’t care about me because I suck. I’m a waste of oxygen.

              The problem with emotional shit is that it can talk, and the more of it there is sitting inside me, the more it tells me. Nothing it tells me is good, and nothing it tells me is truth. But that doesn’t stop me from believing it. The messages my piled up emotions send me are like those radio commercials for car dealerships. They always make sure to include a catchy jingle that you’ll hate, but will still become an ear worm, repeating itself over and over in your brain. Emotions love to talk shit about me, and I’m the only one they talk to.

Why am I writing this? Why, for goodness sake, would I ever want to write this out and give this information to the general public? Who cares? Anyone who reads it will think I’m a wacko.

I’m writing this because I’m not wacko. I’m human.

Finally, we begin to see that all people, including ourselves, are to some extent emotionally ill as well as frequently wrong, and then we approach true tolerance and see what real love for our fellows actually means. It will become more and more evident as we go forward that it is pointless to become angry, or to get hurt by people who, like us, are suffering from the pains of growing up.”

 

This is not a quote from a famous blogger or a motivational speaker. As far as I know these words have never appeared in a TED talk. Those words were written by a member of AA, in a book originally published in 1952. This is not new information, and it wasn’t written by a millennial.

When you find information like this, information that is timeless, it’s easier to trust it as truth. Emotional backup isn’t my condition; it’s the human condition. There’s a post that bops around on social media that says something like, “Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you don’t know about.” That’s the truth. Kindness, politeness, humility, and open-mindedness can take us a long way, and so can being carefully honest about our true feelings.

I’ve done a lot of thinking and research to learn how I can be emotionally open and honest without getting myself into trouble, along with how I can avoid interpersonal troubles in the first place. I know what works for me, but that’s for another post. Here’s my encouragement to you: Be honest about what you are feeling, but be prudent with your honesty. Practice boundaries. Think carefully about how another person will react to what you need to say, and judge accordingly. Don’t let it all out without being mindful about when, where, and who hears it. I’m not suggesting you develop emotional diarrhea. I’m suggesting that we all learn to express our feelings, that we learn how to do it in a way that enables us to begin healing but without indiscriminately hurting those around us. I’m also suggesting that, if someone close to you dumps their emotions, try not to take it too personally. Recognize that what someone else says, even in an attempt to intentionally hurt you, reveals more about the speaker than it does the audience. Give them, and yourself, some grace. Life is hard.

I’m suggesting a steady diet of emotional fiber. I’m suggesting tolerance of other people’s emotional digestion. I’m suggesting that, if you know you are emotionally constipated, take that load to an open-minded friend, a mentor, or a therapist. Don’t take an emotional dump on the person that hurt you.

              Shit stinks. So do painful emotions. But when they’re flowing in a healthy way, and when we encourage others to keep them flowing in a healthy way, we’ll all feel a lot more comfortable.

 

Photos by rawpixel, Jason Roswell, Anna Dziubinska, and Hien Olviera via Unsplash.

Faith is a Verb.

I’m a control freak. I’m 37 years old, and I should know better by now, but in my heart I still believe that if I work hard enough everything will work out exactly the way I want it to. If I scold the kids the right way, take away the video games one more time, spend the right amount of quality time instilling in them my infinite wisdom, and pray really hard, they’ll start to show more respect, do all their homework, and go to bed on time all on their own. And if I see the right doctors, get the right tests, take the right pills, and do the right self care , I’ll be healthy and vibrant and happy, right? Yeah, I know.

I am way too old to believe this crap, but I’m out here hustling like it’s true anyway. Maybe that’s because what I really believe, and what I really fear, is that the opposite is true too. If I don’t use the right kind of discipline, don’t take the right pills, and don’t have the right kind of faith, my life, and I, will fall apart. And that’s when the really scary shit will happen.

Faith in Christ is about believing, not doing. But faith is this nebulous thing I can’t pin down. Telling me to “have faith” when I’m struggling is worse than telling me to just love my kids while they are literally trying to kill each other. What does it even mean?

I can show love, I can feel love, but how do I show or feel faith in a way that actually changes anything? It’s so easy to tell someone to pray, to take one day at a time, and to trust that God will work it all out when you’re not the one taking a suicidal child to the ER. When you are, one day at a time isn’t fast enough.

I’ve been an avid reader of She Reads Truth for about seven years now, almost from the beginning of the ministry. I follow along with their series of Bible passages and daily devotional readings as a matter of course now; they are the key component of my private devotions and quiet time each day. Right now they are featuring a study of Hebrews, and yesterday we arrived at Hebrews 11, the famous “hall of faith” passage. If you’re not familiar with this passage, in it the writer calls faith “the assurance of what is hoped for, the conviction or what is not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Pretty strong words, and a pretty high calling. But the writer then goes on to offer us proof —

By faith, Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain did, and he was approved” (11:4).

“By faith, Noah built an ark,” saving his family, and mankind (11:7).

“By faith, Abraham set out for a place that was his inheritance,” without actually knowing where that place was (11:8).

And it goes on. Fourteen men and two women make it into God’s list of legends. They’re impressive and awe-inspiring. But yesterday writer Claire Gibson drew my attention beyond the list of names to the verbs:

Abel offered.

Noah built.

Sarah received.

Moses refused.

Rahab welcomed.

I’m a huge fan of verbs. They’re often little words, but they pack a lot of meaning and information. As a writing tutor I often find myself encouraging students to choose active and specific verbs that concisely express the action they’re describing. “Instead of saying, ‘It was a sunny day,'” I tell them, “try saying, ‘The sunshine warmed my skin.'” After all, anyone can say how something was, but when I tell you that the sun warmed my skin, you can feel it too.

Verbs are action. These people in Hebrews, in the “hall of faith,” were people, and they’re not on this list because they have something I don’t. I have faith. But what am I doing with it?

I’m saved by faith (Luke 7:50), but what am I doing about that?

Actually, I’m doing a lot about it.

I’m getting my kids up and taking them to school, because I want them to have wisdom (Proverbs 3:13). I’m teaching them about Jesus, because He’s the light of the world (John 8:12). I’m loving my imperfect husband , because we are one flesh (Mark 10:6-9). I’m studying the Bible, because it’s God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16), and sharing my faith, because Christ called me to (Matthew 28:19-20). I’m caring for my mind and body, because it is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). I’m worshipping, because He is worthy of my praise (1 Chronicles 6:23-25).

Don’t make the same mistake I did when I read Hebrews 11. I looked at that list, all those people and what they did because they had faith, and I assumed I just wasn’t among them. They had so much faith, and they risked so much, because they trusted God.

But I do too, and chances are, so do you. I know that I’m doing my best to do the things He calls me to do. I know He calls me to these things because He says so in His Word, and because He encourages me when I pray. And I know I’m doing my best because I’m asking Him to work through me, and it’s His work, not mine, that performs miracles. I don’t need to be intimidated by the “hall of faith” because I’ve been inducted into it too.

By faith, Melanie lives her life as an act of worship. 

If you do too, smile. Relax. Be thankful. You’re doing life God’s way.

What are you doing “by faith”? Comment on this post by filling in the blank below.

By faith, _________________.

Life is Pain, Princess

Optimism is great and all, but let’s face it, it’s not going to stop bad things from happening. As a perspective on life, optimism encourages hope, gratitude, and positivity. But as a method for preventing or surviving bad stuff, it sucks.

              As a writer I definitely want to give my readers hope for the future, but you’re not going to get happy sunshine unicorns from me. That would do you a disservice because it’s not realistic, since denying that we have bad feelings that come from bad experiences doesn’t promote growth and healing, it promotes naivety. And it’s not who I am either. I don’t think I’m rude or even blunt, at least not all the time, but I am honest, and I encourage others to be so as well.

I love Inigo Montoya’s character in The Princess Bride. The handsome face and cute accent are part of it, but his loyalty and honesty are uplifting and bring a piece of reality into the fairy tale. But Inigo also makes me sad, in an uncomfortable way. His character’s back story is a side-plot in the movie, told only through his own words as he describes his quest to find the six-fingered man who killed his father. He is an intense and lovable figure, but he goes through life seeking only revenge for a painful loss in his past.

I like Inigo Montoya because I once felt like he does. I wasn’t a total pessimist, and I was often a fun and loving person to be around. But beyond fighting my demons, there wasn’t much more to life. I’m not even talking about my life before I met Jesus, or not just about my life before I met Jesus. Up until about three years ago, my main motivation for my decision-making and my actions and my goals was fear, and there are days now where it still is.

It would be easier for me to blame mental illness. Or childhood trauma. Or traumatic experiences in adulthood. Or bad genetics. Or the struggles of family and work and technology and creativity. I could describe myself here as a tragic artist, and it wouldn’t be totally inaccurate. I did lay in bed and cry over Don McLean’s song “Vincent” before I even reached puberty, and I did go to graduate school for a masters degree in a field that like only like 200 people on earth have even heard of. But I’m not a tragic artist, and I’m not a poor housewife, deprived of her creative outlet and opportunities to follow her dreams by demanding children who disrespect her. I’m not a genius locked away from a world that confuses my intelligence with insanity. I’m not a victim of abuse.

I’ve been all of these things, and I’ve treasured each of these roles in my heart. Just as Mary treasured the promises delivered by the angel Gabriel, I have cuddled and nurtured the bad things in my life, like ugly dollar store stuffed animals to a child who has never had one. But I didn’t have to. I had lots of great things in my life, and I always have. Yet I clung to my tragedy because my trauma and my pain was what I used to define myself. It was how I found meaning.

My meaning and purpose in life now is to follow God’s will for me in what I do and who I am. Three years ago, and maybe even ten years ago, I may have said the same thing, but it wasn’t true. It was an ideal, but it didn’t play out in reality, because I couldn’t take my eyes off of my fears long enough for me to experience any of the comfort or redemption that God was offering me. I knew Jesus was standing there, I knew He wanted me to come to Him, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the waves and the dark water.

              Depression and anxiety are nasty little beasts, and this is what they do to me. Even when I have the knowledge that my fears aren’t reality and that the circumstances that created them are long gone, and even when I know that my brain and my feelings can, in fact, lie to me, that knowledge only goes so far. It doesn’t stop the fear from being stronger. The fear that maybe I’m dying or this or that. The fear that I’m gradually going insane, and that it’s happening so slowly that no one but me will believe it’s true until it’s too late. The fear that my life really hasn’t been very worthwhile, and anyone else who could have been put in my place would have done just as well, or better, than I have. The fear that my kids are damaged, that my fears and my genetics have doomed them somehow. The fear that my husband is unhappy, that my worthlessness has spread to him, a sexually transmitted malaise. When I think about it, how could a 2000 year old Jewish man overcome all that?

              Of course, He did, and that’s the whole point. His whole point. That’s the Bible. But here’s my whole point. Just because He’s Jesus, and He’s mine, and I’m redeemed by His blood, doesn’t mean that I’m immune to fear. Nor does it mean that I should be, or that my faith is somehow less-than because I experience fear as a huge factor in my life. Mental illness isn’t faith illness, guys. Faith is about what I believe, what I know to be true without having to see it. Mental illness is about my brain. I know it’s there. I’ve had an MRI. I have a brain, among other internal organs. It looks normal because I don’t have the kind of mental illness that’s detectable through imaging (yet). But I know my brain is the cause of my mental illness, and while I’d love for you to pray for me to be free of it one day, I’m not mentally ill because my faith isn’t strong enough. Let’s just get that whole idea out of the way.

On the contrary, actually. My faith is strong because it has to be. Because I have demons. Because I am Legion, for they are many. Some call faith a crutch for the weak. Yep. I didn’t choose to be weak. There were periods of life when I didn’t know I could be stronger than I was, but I’ve always been weak in some ways. But the faith-is-a-crutch people have it backwards. I don’t have faith because I’m weak and need a crutch. I have a crutch because I choose to have faith. And without that crutch, without my faith, I’d be flat on my face. A lot of people have had similar problems to the ones I have, and I’m sure some of them have gotten through them without the crutch of faith. But why would I want to?

              Here’s the point that I’m finally getting to: my faith is strong because I need it to be. Like a muscle, I exercise my faith when I’m strong so that it can support me when I’m weak. I cultivate my relationship with my God everyday because knowing God more means that I’m more confident in who He is in my life, and how much He loves me and supports me, and that I can have faith in that when my brain is telling me that I’m worthless. I have faith because God teaches me to practice it, to invest in my relationship with my Love. I need to trust God, because I need a power greater than myself to get through life. I need faith because optimism, without God, is a fairy tale.

It’s Finally September!

Dear readers, I had every intention of posting this special surprise I have for you a whole two weeks ago, but life got in the way. I am really looking forward to spending this month focusing on taking care of our own bodies, minds, and spirits, but as it turns out, September didn’t come soon enough for me.

Sometimes it’s just so hard to admit our own limitations. I don’t necessarily want to keep my weaknesses a secret, but I do try to appear more resilient than I really am. While I truly believe that God places weaknesses and difficulties in my life to help me grow stronger in faith and show me my need for Him, I also believe that I need to take responsibility for my own wellbeing. When I’m tempted to believe that I’ll feel better if I just keep pushing myself I need the reminder that working harder can’t be my only plan of action for when things get tough. Even when I’m not sick I need to practice a consistent regimen of self care to keep myself from burning out. When I am sick I need to know what I can do to help myself heal emotionally, physically, and spiritually.

When we get on a plane we can always expect that the flight attendants will remind us that in an emergency we have access to oxygen from the masks that drop down from above our seats. But what would happen if they didn’t go through this explanation? If I’ve never been on a plane before I wouldn’t know what the oxygen mask was or how to use it. Even if I had flown before it’s possible that without that regular reminder I might panic and not remember what to do.

Self care tools are like the oxygen mask, and daily self care practice, even when life is going well, is like the flight attendants’ demonstration. Going through the routine of regular self care and learning what tools are at your disposal and how to use them to personalize your comfort is essential. Without self care you’ll still have oxygen, but you’ll definitely crash. It’s crucial. I know this from experience. 

It’s hard to know where to start if you’ve never made yourself a top priority. Chocolate and bubble baths aren’t everybody’s thing (and not mine either). But here’s where I can help you. I’ve put together a big list of self care activities for you to try — one for every day of September. And it’s completely free for you to receive right in your inbox. All this month you won’t have to think about what you can do to practice self care each day; it’s all there for you in a convenient little jpg file. I’ll be following along as well, and you can expect to get updates with ideas and encouragement throughout the week on Instagram and Facebook, along with weekly posts on my website to help you think more deeply and carefully about how you can make sure you’re able to be your best self for the people you love.

Yeah, I know, we’re already more than a week into September. It wasn’t my intention to leave you out to dry like this. The Self Care September calendar includes a suggested activity for all 30 days of the month, including the week that has already past. You have so many options on what to do about that though! You can pretend it’s September 1st and start there, giving yourself an excuse to carry your self care practice well into October (as you should). You can start on today’s date, whatever that happens to be, and plan on using the ideas from the days you missed to add in some extra self care time on the weekends or any day you find that you need it. It’s all up to you. All that’s really important is that you make this time for yourself.

Want to get started with me? Just type in your information below to receive your copy of my Self Care September calendar, follow From Eden’s Dirt on social media, and plan to interact with this community throughout the rest of the month. You are worth the time and effort it takes to practice good self care, and I promise that at the end of the month you’ll be glad you did.

Get your FREE Self Care September calendar and sign up for Self Care September updates here!

Slowing Down the Speed of Life

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You blink, and then it’s over.

That’s what it feels like to me. Life. I just turned 37, and while many people laugh when I tell them I feel old, it’s not so much about the number, but about the speed of life. 37 isn’t old in the grand scheme of things, but those who laugh don’t know how I felt when I dropped my daughter off for her first day of high school last week. They didn’t see me standing on the school campus, lingering, worried that she’d have trouble finding her first class or get overwhelmed by her work load. They didn’t feel it when suddenly I couldn’t linger anymore; I had to leave as quickly as possible before I had the panic attack that it seemed like my daughter should be having, but wasn’t. They weren’t with me on the car ride home to see me cry.

It’s a dramatic, complicated feeling when you’re suddenly confronted with a mile marker in life. When did my daughter stop wearing her Dorothy the Dinosaur hat and start wearing makeup? When did my 7lb. 6oz. son get taller than me and grow constantly hungry?

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Why do these moments jar me so much? Why does it feel sudden and shocking to be driving my daughter to high school when I’m with her every single day and I know perfectly well how much time has passed since she was born? Because busyness blinds me to brevity of time. I plan out my day, knowing exactly where I need to be and what I should be doing at each moment, but then I become a slave to that plan, unable to stop what I’m doing long enough to know what matters.

Pastor Doug Kyle, lead pastor at Green Valley Church in San Diego, California preached last week on making room in our lives for what matters.  (You can watch that sermon for a limited time here.) He spoke to my soul when he said, “We can’t let the days blind us from the seasons.” We follow our to-do lists because we have to. We sign the kids up for lessons or soccer or scouts because we always do, every year. We drive 80mph in the 55 zone because if we don’t we’ll be late and then what would happen?

We just want to stop, but we don’t think we can. 

Our culture has turned busyness into a benchmark for success and leisure into wishful thinking. Pastor Kyle spoke about our need for “breathing room,” for a margin of time in our days, our weeks, our lives for — nothing. God actually commands us to do just that:

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Why do we need Sabbath? Why is it important enough to make it into God’s “top ten?” Because Sabbath is where we have our breathing room. Sabbath rest is about taking a break to regroup, to evaluate where we’re going and how we spend our time. It allows us to stop our forward momentum long enough to see what’s ahead on the path we’re on.

And Sabbath isn’t just for Sundays. Sabbath is a life rhythm, a perspective on the passage of time and life that gives us the opportunity to be mindful of where our choices are taking us and decide whether or not that’s where we want to go. Is my work allowing me to serve others in the way God designed me to? Do my parenting choices teach my kids the right values? Do I support my church with my gifts of time, money, and talent, and does it support me? This kind of evaluation takes time and clear-headed thought, and we can’t give it that in the carpool lane. In fact, we can’t give our faith and our values the attention they require without creating a space in our schedules for breathing room, self-evaluation, and self care.

The self care piece is critical. I know that I can’t accurately look at the big picture when my physical and emotional well-being is depleted. If I decide I’m too busy to eat lunch, for example, my body and mind suffer together. I become tired, get a headache, and can’t think straight or make choices very well. During moments of emotional struggle I predict only doom and gloom in my future and any positive possibilities seem remote at best. To prevent this I make self care a regular practice in my life on a daily basis. Granting myself the freedom to proactively care for my physical, emotional, and spiritual needs without guilt gives me the breathing room to evaluate the rest of my life and how I’m spending it.

Even though my daily self care time is comforting it’s never easy. Even after I say no to the kids, turn off the computer, walk away, and silence my phone, I also have to silence the cultural message of guilt that tells me I’m being selfish and unproductive. It’s there every time, even though I know that my self care isn’t selfish, it’s what allows me to be my best self for my husband, my kids, and my God. My self care isn’t unproductive, it’s what enables and motivates my periods of productivity to be focused on my main objective and the big-picture things that are most important.

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Guilt is just the first obstacle. Even after I absolve myself of the guilt I have to decide how I’m going to care for myself. There are a lot of appealing options available to me, but not all of them rejuvenate my body or refresh my spirit, so I need to determine what I need in that moment. It helps me to think of my self care options like a tool box. Although all the tools are at my disposal some are better for the job than others and it depends on my needs. Banging a hammer against a cracked pipe isn’t going to help much, and similarly, going for a run doesn’t do anything good for me when I have a migraine, though it might when I’m feeling frustrated. So I need to remain flexible about how I care for myself and keep track of the things that are particularly soothing in specific situations.

Of course, I’m trying to encourage you in your self care journey, and all of that makes it sound complicated. So let me help you get started, whether you’re new to the idea of intentional self care or simple need some new ideas and perspectives. In the month of September — that’s less than 2 weeks away! — I’m offering you the opportunity to begin or fine-tune your self care and build your self care toolbox. I’m offering a series of articles that you can get right in your email inbox that I hope will inspire and encourage you to resist the temptation of perpetual productivity and create a space in your life for breathing room. I’ll also talk about how my self care practice has blessed me and helped me become a better writer, a better wife, and a better mom. Plus, just for signing up, you’ll receive a Self Care September calendar that includes one self care activity for every day of the month. Try these activities to see if you can benefit from adding them to your own practice.

Don’t allow the speed of life to take away your opportunity to live intentionally and mindfully. By committing to daily self care for an entire month you will gain the breathing room to live by faith, to more clearly see God’s blessings in your life, and to truly hear His call to rest. Sign up and stay tuned.

Essentials of Self Care: Breathe

 

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This is the second post in my blog series Essentials of Self Care. To build your self care tool box even more, read my first post in this series, Essentials of Self Care: Sleep.

There are some things in life that I find to be both exquisitely simple and deeply profound. Breath is one of those things. Within minutes or even seconds of our birth we are able to take air into our lungs and then exhale it, an act akin to a beating heart as a sign of life itself. We don’t think about breathing; we simply breathe because we are alive and are alive because we breathe.

Yet breathing is at once an involuntary impulse and a spiritual act of worship. Genesis 2:7 says that God formed Adam from the dust, but that he didn’t become a living being until the moment God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” Life could not exist in Adam’s body until Adam received this breath directly from God.

Every inhalation is really an act of receiving, and what we are receiving is God’s gift of life.

Even as we work and think and love we are constantly receiving God’s life-giving breath, not just by a mere intake of oxygen, but by the gift of our need for it.

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Though my children have tried it a few times in the midst of temper tantrums, it is physically impossible to voluntarily hold your breath until you die. In an article that originally appeared on his blog, evolutionary psychologist Robert Kurzban explains that while science has yet to fully explain why we can’t willingly resist the urge to breathe, it is carbon dioxide, the naturally-occurring gas that we exhale, that necessitates the next inhalation. When I hold my breath my metabolic processes use the oxygen I take in, thereby reducing oxygen while increasing the pressure of the carbon dioxide in my body, and this pressure increase eventually induces the act of inhalation.

Our Creator has instilled in us a constant and undeniable need for Him. By the act of taking air into our lungs we acknowledge our need for God. We cannot continue to live without continuous supply of the omnipresent and eternal breath of life. And yet we rarely acknowledge this gift, this assurance of our health and God’s will for us to serve Him here, unless it is somehow interrupted.

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How is breath self care? Because we are continuously breathing we can use this involuntary action as a reminder of who God is to us, how He loves us, has a plan for us, and how He sustains us. The act of focused breathing and drawing attention to our respirations is widely recognized as an effective way to refocus our thoughts. Think of your breath as a self care tool that is always available in any moment. The sheer act of noticing and giving attention to your breathing has a powerful and calming effect on our thoughts and emotions.

Here is my Mindful Breathing Exercise to help you use breathing as a way to care for your body and mind:

  1. Limit external stimuli.

Take a moment to stop what you’re doing and take your focus off the things going on around you. If you can, sit down in a comfortable position and close your eyes. Take a minute to make a deliberate choice to take your mind off what you were doing or what you need to do.

2.  Clear your mind.

This is difficult because it’s impossible for us to stop thinking. Our brains generate both thoughts and internal bodily processes one hundred percent of the time. But while you can’t stop thinking, you do have some control over what you think about. Gently tell yourself that whatever occupied your mind a minute ago is gone for now, and that it is good and safe to take this moment for yourself.

3.  Pay attention to your breath.

Ask yourself, for this moment, to only pay attention to your breath. Notice the air around you as a physical presence in the room, invisible yet infused with life and meaning. Inhale slowly, gently, and deeply through your nose. Try to relax your body and think of the air going slowly into your abdomen, not just your lungs and chest. For some people it helps to imagine a balloon that sits just below their lungs, with its open end pointing up toward the mouth. As you inhale imagine the balloon slowly filling with air, beginning at the lowest end and expanding. Then, as you exhale, imagine the air flowing gently but fully out through the opening at the top of the balloon. Another option to help you visualize deep restorative breathing is to picture your breath as water filling a tall vase, beginning at the bottom of the vase near your stomach and slowly filling to the top, then slowly pouring out from the top as you exhale.

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Stay in this meditative state and repeat these deep breathing steps for as long as you’d like or as long as you need. Open your eyes slowly and restart your thoughts and activities slowly when you’re done. Take notice of how this deep breathing changed your physical body, your emotions, and your state of mind. This exercise can be shortened or modified as needed during moments of fear, anger, or stress to help you manage emotions and reactions in a more mindful and graceful way. It also works well and can lead to long term stress reduction when practiced on a regular basis.

In the midst of his vision in Ezekiel 37 God tells him to prophecy over a valley of dry bones, saying:

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The act of breathing offers us an opportunity to experience God’s power and provision for us in light of our most basic needs. My Mindful Breathing practice helps me refocus my thoughts and my energy and reminds me that my heavenly Father is as close to me as the air I breathe.
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Photos by Fabian Moller, Ian Dooley, Havilah Galaxy, Stefan Kunze with text from Word Swag, and Natalia Figueredo

From Eden’s Dirt

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My dear followers,

I’m sure you may have noticed the change in the header for the blog, and if you follow me on Facebook you may have noticed that my page there is called Organic Compost. I’ve been praying about a title for my blog for several months now, bouncing around ideas in my mind and questioning if this site needs a title beyond my own name. The truth is, though, that I’m a big fan of names, even for inanimate things. Names give meaning and help me associate a concept with the concrete.

The journey I’m on is one of self discovery and God-discovery. I find life difficult; in fact, lately I am weary. I’m not just tired, and I’m not just busy. When someone asks, “How are you?” weary is the word that comes to mind. I have led and am leading a full life, and that fullness has included the good, the bad, and the ugly. But I’ve made enough trips around the sun now that I’ve noticed something — God doesn’t just let bad things happen to me. God uses those things to show me more of Himself, more of who I am in Christ, and to grow me closer to the unique person He designed me to be.

God uses the bad things to grow me. 

Besides names, I’m also a fan of analogy. Yes, those things we studied to boost our SAT scores. Similes, metaphors. By comparing the unknown to the known, or the conceptual to the concrete, I’m able to understand ideas more clearly and associate those ideas with something I can see and touch. That’s what happens for me in nature. By helping me see my worst moments as opportunities to grow in faith, God reminds me that He grows faith from pain just as He grows apples, zucchinis, and lilies from dirt. He shows me that even as organic matter disintegrates into the ground to provide nutrients that help new plants to grow and flourish, He can take my hurts, my mistakes, my pain, and my sin, and make it new again in a way that blesses me and others.

God can take the dust of Eden and use it to make dry bones rise, deserts bloom, and lions lay down with lambs. He can lead my dirty feet beside still waters, through the valley death, and onto streets of gold. 

I hope you’ll forgive my experimentation with not just the blog title, but with it’s content and with my voice as a writer. If you have any feedback please know that I welcome it wholeheartedly.

I pray that your Sabbath Sunday will bring you a grateful heart and dusty feet.

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Photos by Kyle Ellefson and Juja Han.

My Gorilla Glue Marriage

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Over the last five years or so we’ve found it necessary to keep a wide variety of adhesives available in our home. I suspect that this is something many families do, but lately it seems like circumstances have required us to become more versed in the newest varieties of super glues. One major reason is my engineering seven-year-old, whose personality has emerged as that of an active explorer intent on discovering multiple ways to use household items. But our purchase of a travel trailer last year increased our use of adhesives exponentially.

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Owning an RV wasn’t something we’d thought of as a goal when we moved to California two years ago, but as we adjusted to the temperate weather here we recognized the economy of avoiding hotel costs by towing a mini-house behind when we travel. So in June 2017 we purchased a 2002 Rockford Roo travel trailer from its previous owner via Craig’s List. At only 24 feet long it’s a tight fit for a family of six, but the lack of space, we’ve found, prompts us to spend more time exploring our vacation destinations outdoors. Excited to embark on a new family hobby, I filled my Pinterest boards with photos of old campers made new again via crafty remodeling.

The camper started falling apart on our very first trip.

As I stood on the side of the highway examining a large rip in its siding I noticed that the wooden wall underneath this siding — the walls that held the camper together — were damp and smelled musty. The entire exterior of the camper had water damage.

Undaunted, we invested in multiple rolls of Gorilla Tape to keep with us when we traveled, determined to keep the walls of our tenement on wheels together for as long as possible. But on the second morning of what was likely our last trip in the camper there was a loud cracking noise, followed by my thirteen year old son yelling for help. We found him standing in a small pile of wet, broken wood, trying desperately to hold up a heavy hinged section that was threatening to fall off, leaving our camper missing an entire portion of the wall. The portion of the wall that also would be mine and Eric’s bed, specifically.

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Since adhesive tape wouldn’t be adequate to fix a hinged part of the wall it took several layers of Gorilla Glue to save our vacation.

But that’s not the story I’m going to tell you. 

The story I want to tell is not about problems and mishaps and poorly researched Craig’s List purchases.

It’s about adherence.

You see, this particular trip and this particular mishap happened to occur a few days before our sixteenth wedding anniversary, and, as we proudly tell others, the nineteenth anniversary of the day we met. Taking a big picture view of nineteen years of loving each other, a crack in the wall of our camper didn’t seem like a big deal. It wasn’t.

When Eric and I met during that exciting but tender summer after high school graduation I saw the world and the life that was before me like a giant eighteenth birthday present. All I needed to do was open up the amazing opportunities ahead of me, all of which were sure to be exciting and perfect, and then I would lead a successful, independent, and charmed life. Eric, who is nine years my senior and was a father of one at the time, was not what I expected to find inside the box. Yet he quickly and easily swept me off my feet, and within just a couple of months I knew that the amazing life I intended to lead had at its center my very own Prince Charming.

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But of course, as you can likely guess from my writings about illness, trauma, and healing, “charming” is not the term I’d use to describe these last nineteen years. Our fast-moving commitment to each other and my introduction to life as a step-mother ignited a flame of adversity. Though we’ve had short periods of relative peace and tranquility among the stress of life, these warm quiet flatlands, like the California deserts, are littered with dry chaparral set to ignite at the smallest spark, and annihilate any dreams of a peaceful, quiet life we may have.

We’ve faced sleepless nights with babies that stretched on for years.

My own untreated depression and anxiety that threatened, at times, to leave Eric alone in the flames.

The slow and erratic developmental growth of our daughter that left us fearful for her future and questioning our own ability to raise children.

Medical problems that went untreated while we focused on caring for our needy children.

A difficult custody issue in our blended family that separated us from my step-daughter for close to five years.

Accusations that we abused and neglected our children.

The loss of our jobs and two church homes, a consequence of our decision for me to nurse my babies in public.

An autism diagnosis for first one, then two of our children.

An ADHD diagnosis for one as well.

The trials of military life, including some separations, no chances for Eric to take a sick day, frequent moves, never having family or friends nearby, and finding housing and therapeutic services.

A complete career change for Eric that has included time for him to earn a second bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree.

My own seven-year journey to a master’s degree.

Difficult relationships with family members.

The loss of our last five grandparents and my father.

My potential for a debilitating genetic illness.

Crippling financial debt.

And my own recovery from food addiction.

So you can see why our crumbling travel trailer, though frustrating and irritating, is a minor annoyance for us in the grand scheme of our life together. God has deeply and extravagantly blessed Eric and I with an abundance of perseverance and hope in the face of our trials and the ability to cling to Him and to each other as we walk through these wildfires.

We’ve got 99 problems, but faith ain’t one. 

What is it that we do that has held us together for nineteen years through not just tragedy but, even more emotionally draining, the day-to-day walk of growing, healing, and changing in the wake of our trials? What do we do to withstand the circumstances that threatened to turn our very foundations to dust?

We adhere.

Our relationships with each other and with God have not remained untested through it all. There have been countless times when I’ve desired, and even threatened, to walk away, to think of divorce, of severing what God has joined together, as a way to escape my troubles. Like I could erase the pain, cut my ties with it. Once, during a difficult time of transition, I told Eric I would leave and then end our marriage. He responded,

“The only way you’ll remove my wedding ring is if you cut my finger off.” 

Despite my painful accusations and rage he chose to adhere.

Of course my Prince Charming has his own set of frustrating habits that put me to the test as well. The same stubbornness that prevented him from accepting my wrathful declarations can become a barrier when we need a shift in perspective, and he has a tendency to avoid conflict in a way that can cause our problems to multiply before he’s willing to address them. I’ve cried a million tears over the times our family has needed a change, or even just an important conversation, that he wasn’t ready to face.

But as I’ve cried, I’ve adhered.

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The Gorilla Glue proved itself successful in holding our camper together through our seventeen day family vacation, but it certainly isn’t a reliable long-term fix. But the glue that holds my marriage and my family together is faith in our loving God and gratefulness for the gift of His Son.

Adherence, def.: steady and faithful attachment, fidelity.

Psalm 119:90 says, “Your faithfulness endures to all generations, You have established the earth, and it stands fast.”

 

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As we adhere ourselves to our loving God He grants us the grace and faith to adhere to each other, and thus God’s faithful love becomes woven into every element of our marriage and our family. As we make our way together through our broken, crumbling world we need this glue, this adhesive faith, to keep us rooted in heaven, where one day we will be truly united with God.

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Photos by Rob Schreckhise, Eric Muhr, and Word Swag. Portraits by Zerby Photography and Gerfy Photography.

If the mountains bow in reverence

Last summer my husband and I traveled alone to this place, Ouray, Colorado, to celebrate our 15th anniversary and for him to run an incredibly challenging 100 mile race. But while we were here we did something unexpected- we fell in love with the mountains. I’ve loved mountains and trees and the little towns that get nestled within them since I was a girl, but being an east coast resident until two years ago, I had never seen mountains like this. And it wasn’t just the mountains. On our last night in town my husband, who isn’t always in touch with his more mystical emotions, looked at me and said, “Do you feel at home here?” I did, and I do. This year the kids came with us and were spellbound even on the first day.

One thing I’m reading and learning from this journey of becoming a writer is that our experiences with our Creator don’t always come to us through words. I’m a big fan of words, but God communicates in an infinite variety of ways if I’m listening. He communicates in mountain air, the sound of water rushing over rocks and cliffs, the voice of my husband, my child, my friend, or a stranger. Listening isn’t easy in our culture, and interpreting can be even harder. But honing my communication skills and sharpening my ears to hear the language of my Lord is worth it. I encourage you today to open your ears, your heart, your mind, your pores, and your soul to the Holy Spirit’s calling.

Photo by author.

3 Ways that Back to School season is Different in an Autism Family

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Sometimes it seems like back to school season is an extended and complicated version of New Year’s Eve. All that changes on New Year’s Eve is the date, but back to school season means new clothes, new shoes, lots of notebooks and pencils, and about 85 glue sticks to donate to the classroom supply.

It’s not quite the same in my family, though. As a mom of two teens with autism I have to think differently, shop differently, and set goals differently. And that’s just the beginning. While my teens deal with many of the same issues that other teens do there are a good number of common teen concerns that don’t come up in our house, and a whole host of others that are pretty unique. Our family’s back to school experience is different in a lot of ways. Here are three examples.

1. “Back to School Fashion” isn’t a thing.

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As a neurotypical teen in the 1990s I anticipated my annual back to school clothes shopping trip like a second Christmas. I couldn’t wait to go to the mall with my grandmother to update my wardrobe with the newest styles. (Jnco jeans, anyone?) But as a mom of teens with autism buying new clothes looks very different. My son and daughter aren’t interested in trendy clothes because for the most part they aren’t concerned with trends. In many ways this makes things easier for me as a parent because I can shop for my kids’ clothing based on need instead of want. While I may take advantage of clothing sales this season to stock up on jeans in the next size up, my kids don’t care what time of year they get them, nor do they want to go along to the store. In our house back to school shopping is a one-woman job, and when I bring home the new jeans I toss them on their beds and remind them to put them away in their closets.

In other ways, though, buying clothes for my teens is a challenge. When I buy new jeans for my thirteen year old son I also need to be sure to remove the old jeans and pants from his room because often he doesn’t realize that they’re two sizes too small and barely long enough to cover his knees, let alone his ankles. Because he also has ADHD he may forget that he has new jeans if he still has a drawer full of the old ones. With my fourteen year old daughter clothes are more complicated. Since women are unfortunately held to a higher standard of appearance than men I have to balance cultural expectations for how a teen girl should look with her own sensory needs, her ability to dress herself, and the kinds of things she likes. Like her brother she isn’t always aware of it when her clothes are too small. Having kids with autism has shown me that much of the language we use as neurotypicals is very vague. Pants that one young woman might think are too small might be perfect to another woman, even if they both wear the same size and have similar body shapes. My daughter might notice that her underwear are uncomfortable, but she may not be able to recognize that it’s because they’ve grown too small. Or she may know they’re too small but not remember to tell me until I see her unabashedly fixing a wedgie in public. I have to remember that she likes cotton pants but not leggings and has trouble fastening back-closing bras. This gets more confusing around the holiday season when well-meaning relatives want to buy my kids clothes as gifts.

2. We don’t always know what school they’re going back to.

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Between my teens’ special needs and my husband’s Navy career my kids change schools a lot. My daughter, who starts high school this year, has attended nine different public schools already, but only two of those changes were due to a physical move for our family. While all kids have their own unique educational needs, the needs of children with autism are often harder for schools to accommodate. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which was signed into law in 1990, was designed to ensure that American students with disabilities can still receive a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). But since a diagnosis of autism can cover a wide range of needs and abilities, parents of students with autism and school staff need to work together to evaluate each student’s needs and design an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) to communicate educational goals and methods used to achieve them to all schools staff. Of course a student’s IEP needs to be adjusted regularly as she or he achieves some goals and needs change, and this is where things get complicated.

When a school doesn’t have the right materials or staff to address a student’s changing needs, or when parents and school staff disagree about what those needs are, something needs to change. While parents do have the option to legally contest a school’s decision regarding a child’s needs these appeals can mean a lengthy and potentially costly battle with an uncertain outcome. As a family we’ve found it faster and simpler to move our special needs students to a more accommodating school. For the last two school years we chose to have our autistic teens enrolled in an online school, where they were able to follow a public school curriculum and meet with teachers and classmates online from inside our home. While my son has thrived in this environment we found that for my daughter this specialized school setting widened an already existing gap between her academic and social/emotional abilities. Her ways of interacting with other teens and adults became problematic for her. So this year, at least to start, she may choose to attend our local “brick and mortar” public high school, where the special education services she receives can happen in person. So, yes, that will bring the count up to ten different schools for her in eleven years.

3. We pay more attention to our kids’ social lives at school than their academic lives.

 

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With little exception my teens with autism have generally been able to get good grades and understand the material their teachers present at school. While this isn’t true for all autistic teens, my kids tend to have more difficulty interacting with other students than they do with teachers and textbooks. As a result I pay more attention to when, where, and how my teens interact with peers than I do their grades. Because, unfortunately, my teens have a lot of peers, but few friends. Bullying has been an on-and-off problem throughout their school careers, but a lack of supportive friendships has been a consistent theme, especially once they started middle school. It’s not that I want them to be popular social butterflies, but I can’t be their main source of support forever. I want to know that they can find and maintain good relationships and know whether or not a new friend is a safe, reliable person to spend time with. Right now they’re with me and each other more than anyone else, and I have no need to kick them out of our house when they turn 18. But someday I’ll be gone and they won’t.

In all respects parenting these two amazingly unique people has been a joyful and humbling challenge. There was a time when we thought that all we had to do was find the right combination of school services, doctors, therapists, and parenting methods and then we could simply maintain the course while they figured the rest out on their own. In reality their needs are perpetually moving targets, and while consistency is important in parenting, it’s just as important for us to know when we need to make a change. So every year when back to school season arrives we take the time to mindfully observe how our autistic teens are really doing. While academics and social skills are things we look at with their input, whether or not they’re happy and comfortable is usually the barometer that tells us when change is in the air. So this year as they try on new jeans, new schools, and new friends, my job is to help them find the right fit.

Photos by Steve Harvey, Ben Weber, Austin Pache, and Melissa Askvew via Unsplash.

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