Earlier today I had a conversation with one of my students. She was having a moment—one of those moments when getting out of bed is difficult and facing the day feels impossible. I’ve been having those days quite a bit lately. In fact, today was one of those days.
I felt it as soon as I forced myself out of bed at 5:09. It hung over me like a heavy weight while I showered. It stuck “in my craw” while I prayed and journaled. It slowed me down as I dressed and packed my bags and offered all the reasons to hide under the covers and try again tomorrow. But, of course, being an adult, I had little choice but to “suck it up” and face the day.
It’s not anything in particular that places us in these “ugh” moments. It’s the accumulation of “life stuff.” Our operating in a pandemic for the last year certainly doesn’t help—the isolation from those we love, the death toll, the uptick in technology use. It’s downright wearying. It’s depressing, and we have to do everything we can to take care of ourselves and avoid slipping into a deep well of despair.
I told my student to get out of bed, open her curtains, let some light in her room, seek counsel, and meditate over scripture. I shared with her on those days when I feel like I just.can’t.do.life, I repeat over and over and over again the only Bible verse I have the energy for—
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. —Philippians 4:13
I can. She can. You can. And we wake up the next morning, realizing, we’ve survived another one of those moments.
About the Image: My Love Notes friend, Arielle W, sent the sunflower above for International Women’s Day 2021. She sent it with IWD wishes and a cheerful spring greeting. What a beautiful way to begin the week!
Seven Practices for One Little Word
Do you have “one little word” for 2021? If you haven’t heard about it, one little word (1LW) is the practice of choosing one word to focus on for an entire year. Instead of–or maybe along with–New Year’s resolutions, individuals use the word as a path to growth and transformation in a particular area.
I first started the 1LW practice in 2015. I’m not sure where I first read about it, but I liked the idea of intentional focus in one area of my life or on one spiritual discipline.
The practice of 1LW has increased in popularity significantly since my first word. There are many blog posts, worksheets, writing and creative groups devoted to helping you find and stick to the practice.
Keturah, a beautiful soul who was part of the youth ministry my hubby and I worked with some moons ago, reached out at the beginning of the year and asked for some tips on 1LW. My far less than prompt response was long enough for a blog post [and my time today is too short to respond to her and write a blog post], so I decided to kill the proverbial “two birds with one stone” and share it here in case some of you are interested.
It’s easy to get lost in a sea of words as you look for the right one word fit, so here are some micro-practices I use as I work toward finding the word I need and putting that word to work. Hopefully, they’ll help make your journey to and with your word meaningful.
- Partner with God. Near the end of every year I go through the rigmarole of claiming and rejecting one word after another. In fact, I have rarely chosen a word by the first of the year. It is only when I partner with God and seek His wisdom and insight into my life and character that I feel settled with a word. There are all sorts of things I would love to claim for myself, but sometimes those things just aren’t aligned with God’s desires for me. The beauty of partnering with God for your 1LW is that you get all the extra opportunities to dwell in His presence and listen for His voice. When you let Him have some “say” in your one word decision, He places in your path little reminders all along the way.
- Define. When you accept your word, write down all its connotative and denotative meanings. Look for various nuances of the word in different languages, particularly the biblical languages. This exhaustive lexicon will help keep you engaged with the word as you seek ways to expand. It also reduces the prospect of boredom as you exploit all the possibilities of the word.
- Scripture and Other Inspiration. Make a list of scriptures related to your word. You don’t have to write the scriptures out just yet, but tape the list inside a journal for reference. You’ll find enough reason to scripture-journal the biblical texts that speak to you later in your journey. Select one scripture that will serve as your focus scripture. This is the one you’ll recite over and over and meditate on during your toughest moments. This also works with other sacred texts and forms of inspiration.
- Listen. As I mentioned in point 1, God will place signs of His presence and reminders along the way. Listen for God’s voice and embrace the markers related to your word as you go through your days. Journal your experiences and your encounters with God via your 1LW..
- Collect. Collect quotes, poems, and images related to your 1LW. Post them–on your wall, in your office, in notebooks, on mirrors. They serve as confirmation and affirmation for those moments when you feel a little lost and disconnected from your journey. You’ll be amazed how many things related to your 1LW meet your eyes once when you begin to pay attention..
- Pray, meditate, and act. The one word journey, if done right, is not for the faint of heart. The path is meandering and unstable. If you want a transformed life, then you must remain on the path and stay connected to the Source. Walk with prayer, take time for meditation, and as with all change, take the steps necessary to make changes when the time is right. You’ll know when the time is right because you’re connected to the Source...
- Journal. Maintaining a regular journal is key. Use it to collect your thoughts, prayers, quotes, musings, frustrations, victories, and setbacks. The journal ties it all together.
The one little word practice is not about achieving success or mastering yourself in a particular way in 12 months. It’s about challenging yourself and deepening soul practices, so release the notion that you must reach a particular state of being related to your 1LW in just one short year.
I only began to recognize the changes in me related to my first 1LW [six whole years ago!] within the last few months. And guess what. Last year’s word might be this year’s word too! 1LW is not a marathon or a task you must complete in 12 months. It’s fluid.
The goal is to realize a vision for yourself in one word. 1LW is a whole lot more practical and achievable than a list of resolutions and, if done sincerely, will become a consistent practice in your life–far beyond this one year.
About the Image: This is another beauty captured at Scott’s Orchard in October, the Chianti Sunflower . It is not as stunning as the Moulin Rouge, but I think it’s pretty close.
Coping with the Madness of 2020: Pray
If I practiced none of the other coping strategies I wrote about in the “coping” series, I might be okay, but the one thing that saves my sanity, my life, and probably the lives of a few others is prayer. In fact, journaling, creating, shutting it down, listing, sleeping, and spending time with trees, would have little effect if I did not pray.
So I pray. I pray. I pray. I pray.
I’m not talking about begging and bargaining, though I’m pretty sure I’ve attempted some of that this year. Instead, I’m talking about being in communion with God, listening for/to His voice, and doing my best to respond to the madness of 2020 and life in general in ways that honor Him, deepen my trust in Him, and elevate my consciousness.
I am not overstating when I say prayer has kept me sane.
There are few words to describe our collective trauma this year, and I can’t say that I haven’t wondered or asked “why?” from time to time. But God is absolutely sovereign, so I try in all things to yield to His will–no matter how unfair, unreasonable, or impossible circumstances seem to me.
Moving toward prayer during difficult times challenges everything in me. It calls me out of self-centeredness, moves me away from my desires, and pushes me to higher levels of God-consciousness and light. The outcome is beautiful, but the work to get there isn’t pretty.
Moments like the ones 2020 has presented us with are tolerable and livable only when I am in constant contact, when my focus is heavenward and not on this tiny difficult moment. While I may not know the beginning from the end, prayer firms up hope and gives me a glimpse of the beautiful possibilities. For all of us.
Gracias: Thank you for joining me for the seven-part “Coping with the Madness of 2020” series. If you’re interested, you can find a few more tips in two posts I wrote six years ago–different circumstances, but they still work: Getting Through the Crazies, Part I and Getting Through the Crazies, Part II.
And thanks to my friend Charmaine whose yellow iris is featured at the top of this post. I have difficulty shooting irises and expected little from the shots. This one turned out to be one of the favorites among those I shot from her garden. Who knew?
Who Can Separate Belief from Occupations?
On this final day of NaBloPoMo, I’m sharing an excerpt from Kahlil Gibran’s “On Religion” from The Prophet, which is one of my forever favorites.
Today, I’m thinking about work, my students, and all the grading ahead of me. I’m also thinking about separate conversations I’ve had this week with a long-ago student and a current student. They were both “extolling my virtues” as a professor and talking about the profound impact I made on them and their peers, not just professionally but personally. Their words were encouraging–because it is always at the end of the semester that I worry over whether my courses did what they were supposed to do and whether I’ve helped my students on their own road to becoming–more than “just” academically.
Although my primary goal is to facilitate students’ development as writers, thinkers, and scholars, I see my role as something greater; therefore, I attempt to do more than teach writing, thinking, and literature. I work to push my students toward agency, authenticity, and wholeness so that they can ably meet the challenges beyond the college experience.
Like other areas of my life, what happens in the classroom is service, ministry, and an act of worship. It is seeing my work in this way that keeps me motivated and committed to students–no matter how they [and some of the other aspects of professor life] drive me crazy at times.
Gibran’s poem “On Religion” blurs the lines and shows us that every facet of our lives must be imbued with religion. Religion is not played out once a week in the company of likeminded others. It is in our every movement, action, and interaction. It is part of our essence, who we are, not a performance or garb we take on and off.
I am saturating my soul with prayer and Gibran’s words as I head into the weekend–a period of rest from students and madness. When Monday comes I’ll be equipped for the challenges the final grading period always brings and will handle them with grace.
Who can separate his faith from his actions, or his belief from his occupations?
Who can spread his hours before him, saying, “This for God and this for myself;
This for my soul, and this other for my body?”
Your daily life is your temple and your religion.
Whenever you enter into it take with you your all.
Take the plough and the forge and the mallet and the lute,
The things you have fashioned in necessity or for delight.
For in revery you cannot rise above your achievements nor fall lower than your
And take with you all men:
For in adoration you cannot fly higher than their hopes nor humble yourself lower
than their despair. –Kahlil Gibran, “On Religion,” The Prophet
Wishing you a weekend filled with contemplation and rest.
Thanks for reading along for NaBloPoMo18. I didn’t think I was going to make it this time. In fact, I declared I was quitting two weeks ago because my plate was spilling over, but my precious Tyhara encouraged me to keep going, reminding me that I needed to do this for myself–to balance out all the head-stuff. Thanks, Ty!
Linking up with Dawn of The Day After in the final Festival of Leaves photo challenge post for 2018.
“He Comes Walking”
During my prayer and meditation period this morning, I ran across a Sheila Walsh quote printed in my Women of Faith Study Bible, a couple of pages away from the psalm I was studying. I am moved to share it here:
When emotions beat against our souls like wave after wave in the worst of a storm, there is nowhere to turn but to Christ. As I sit for a while and think about Him, I hear the loneliest words in the world: “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). On that brutal tree Christ embraced total isolation so that you and I never have to be alone. I am learning that doesn’t mean that life will be free of pain; it means that in the midst of the darkest night, He comes walking. Along the bleakest hospital corridors, He comes walking. When you think the world has left you all alone, listen closely. He comes walking. –Sheila Walsh
It is natural for us to feel alone when we’re struggling with everything that comes against us, when we’re desperately seeking answers that make sense. Rest assured. Things are not as hellish as they seem. We are not alone. Christ our Strength is walking with us, standing us upright, carrying us through.
I hope Walsh’s words rest deep within your soul. I hope when you are in the darkest places of human loneliness–where it seems no one knows or understands–you will remember Christ. He is well acquainted with human suffering. His light penetrates. His love and comfort reach even there.
He comes walking…
Sunflowers, Roses, and Coincidence
Life is busy, busy, busy, but I had to drop by on my lunch break because I found myself chuckling a little about the coincidence between last week’s Microblog Monday post and an interaction with one of my good friends.
At the end of a birthday dinner she hosted for her husband and other February-born relatives Saturday, my friend gave away the red roses that adorned most of the tables. Only the “kiddie table” held a vase of sunflowers.
She offered me the roses. Then read my face, “You want the sunflowers.”
Lately, more than usual, I need to surround myself with the sunny blossoms and, like them, seek the light…
I don’t think there’s anything on this planet that more trumpets life than the sunflower. For me that’s because of the reason behind its name. Not because it looks like the sun but because it follows the sun. During the course of the day, the head tracks the journey of the sun across the sky. A satellite dish for sunshine. Wherever light is, no matter how weak, these flowers will find it. And that’s such an admirable thing. And such a lesson in life. –Helen Mirren as Chris in Calendar Girls
Photo Walk: Praying with Trees
I had to take a walk today. I had to get out of my office and soak in the sun and rid myself of some of the ugliness that had been clawing at my soul.
The last few weeks have been bad. Not because everything has gone wrong and life has been topsy-turvy, but in soul-killing ways. I’ve been dealing with too many people who simply aren’t nice and it was making me physically tired. Like, I-want-to-sleep-to-not-deal-with-people tired.
The “everydayness” of the pettiness and meanness and slights were taking a toll. No matter how well I let things “roll off my back,” when the assaults are hard, fast, and consistent, tiny slights feel like boulders. They aren’t so easy to roll away. They just sort of pile up and impede my ability to “move on” or not take things “to heart.”
I found it difficult to shake the mood that was gripping me and dragging me to a dark, dark place. I had to do something, so I “escaped” for a bit.
I didn’t take my camera. I didn’t plan to take photos. (I had my phone with me out of habit and for security). I just needed to walk and talk with God for a moment. I needed him to “right” my perspective and reset my mood. I needed him to expel from my spirit the foulness that was intent on sullying my soul.
After a few steps, I looked up.
The trees were communing and basking in the warmth of this so-called winter and playing against the clear blue sky.
I took a deep, cleansing breath.
I allowed God’s Spirit to bathe me and exorcise the yuckiness.
And fill me with good things–things that are lovely, pure, right, and true.
I’m light and airy and my gratitude is floating in the wind, dancing with the trees.
Morning by Morning…
When I awakened this morning, I felt overwhelmed by my external and internal to-do lists and deflated by life in general. I pushed through my desire to hide from the world today and climbed out of bed only two minutes later than planned.
Shortly after breakfast, I heard my little one, who typically opens his blinds first thing in the morning, exclaim from his bedroom, “Wow, look at the sky!” I raced to his window and beheld this gorgeous pre-sunrise sky.
You know what happened next. I threw on a couple of jackets, grabbed my camera, and raced outdoors because an early morning sky can transform from dramatic to ordinary in the blink of an eye.
I didn’t spend a lot of time outdoors, but the few moments alone with my camera and the sky reset my mood. While gazing at the sky, I began to sing a line from “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” one of my favorite hymns–“Morning by morning new mercies I see.”
The sky led to the song and the song led to the biblical text which inspired the hymn:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
Lamentations 3:22-23 NIV
I’m walking with gratitude for the awesome promise of “new mercies” each morning, and I am a bit “lighter” knowing that God’s “great love” will rescue me, even from myself.