Tag Archives: prayer

Touching others until the last day

I struggle with going to church. Even when I like my church, I often find better things to do with me time. When I go, it’s a bit like exercise. I drag my feet and look for available excuses. Once I go, I’m glad I went. So, I’ve been thinking a bit about why I don’t want to go. It all boiled down to one thing: the prayer time.

A lot of churches have an open microphone time where folks can get up and share their concerns and ask for prayer. It is a nice way to show care to every person in the church. Once in a while these times have been inspiring and moving. So why don’t I like it? Because most of the time it is not at all inspiring. Most of the time it’s a long litany and rarely it’s the actual person speaking. Far too often the person we are asked to pray for has at least two or three degrees of separation from anyone I even remotely know.

Then there is this other little problem and it’s a logistical one. The person says everything that’s wrong and even what they want in the prayer.

“Pray for Aunt Millie that she may be comforted during this time of healing from goiters,” The person with the microphone says.

That’s bad enough because I’m certain few of us in church know Aunt Millie, and in a world where two billion people don’t have water, it’s hard to work up much angst for goiters. But then the preacher has to go ahead and offer the prayer for Aunt Millie’s comfort and we hear it all again.

I can’t help but think God is as bored as I am during these times. She’s not a Genie in the Bottle for goodness sakes. If prayer is our way of spending time with the divine, something about this show-and-tell seems far, far from it.

This is highly, highly uncharitable. I know that. But it doesn’t change how little purpose I feel during this time, which far too often stretches far too long until I’m counting minutes of my Sunday I’ll never get back again.

Even writing about this makes me feel like a cad, but the truth is I don’t like the prayer time and I have strong doubts God does either.

Then again, every time I think I know what God might be up to I get a flying spiritual hammer-kick to the heart to remind me that I am not God and have no idea what He thinks and feels.

Example: The other day I reached out to a woman who years ago–decades really–was in my church. Last year, her son died of a heroin overdose and her mother’s day post on our Criminal U website was a wrenching, honest, powerful, must-read devotion to honoring her son and using her incredible grief to encourage others suffering from addiction (please go read this and like it and support it if you can. The more people who read it, the better).

I have thought of her often and simply dropped her an email to tell her so. She wrote back about how she’s learned grief is a marathon, not a sprint. Every time I try to offer her support, she ends up offering so much more to me. This was no exception.

She told me how she received a condolences card from a woman named Roxie. She and I both knew only one Roxie in our entire life. She was the woman who every single Sunday without fail got up during prayer time to ask for prayers for a host of strangers. More than that she would write these people notes of encouragement and enlist others to do the same. I never liked it when she stood up, but I came to appreciate her heart for every person under God’s great sky. Anyway, I’ll let my friend tell the rest of the story:

Mom told me that Roxie had passed away and that it must be from a different Roxie. I don’t know any other Roxies. I researched and discovered that Roxie had passed two days after Tyler. She must have written this sympathy note before she passed, and it was just now sent by whoever found it on her desk. The timing of this card was Divine and knowing that brings me the most comfort of all.

I read this and my heart just twisted into a knot. Roxie and Tyler are both ensconced in heaven but here her prayers and notes keep right on blessing others.

I opened the attachment and knew that handwriting as sure as I know my own. I had received my share of cards from Roxie in the day. I had been asked to sign even more, cards she wrote to any number of people and simply wanted me to add my name to in support and to show the person he or she was not alone during their time of hardship.

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I hadn’t thought of Roxie for so long, but she was one of the good ones. A rare gem with a heart so big she couldn’t not stand up every Sunday and ask for people to prayer for every odd distant person out there who was suffering. Her faith was so big she had no doubts that this was what the church was supposed to do and in doing it, God was alive all the more.

It pained me to think of her loss even though I am one of those so distant people in her life now. But it amazed me… knocked me stupid silly to know that to the day she left to go over to the other side, Roxie kept reaching out, praying, sending notes of God’s love.

I’m ashamed of my immaturity by comparison. I can’t say I’ll ever enjoy the church prayer time, but I know I’ll shut the hell when it comes to thinking I know how God feels about it.

I leave you with more wisdom born from the pain of a mother’s broken heart, the wisdom my friend left me in her email:

Blessings and Love to you and yours, and remember to hug your loved ones tightly.

Amen.

 

Just breathe: first step toward the God of peace

In the late 1990s my so-called perfect life was anything but. Typical of those like me who were relatively affluent, married, career-oriented, I had the accouterments of success. Outside I looked fine, stylish in fact… maybe even adorned. I had a designer purse and a nice car and my husband at the time worked in a successful family business.

And we were miserable.

My misery manifest itself in anxiety. Panic attacks. Fear. Times when my body rebelled against me. I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and prescribed medication. But it was also the first time I began to pay attention to the little things that can make life better. Like air.

Breath.

Breathe in, breathe out. It was good advice then and it remains a go-to-medication now long after I have stopped taking drugs and stopped self-medicating with alcohol.

I realized a long time ago how important deep breathing is for physical and mental health. My journey towards a more healthy well-being started with the introduction of deep breathing. I’d simply start each morning by taking ten long, deep breaths in, followed by a long, slow exhale out. I developed a routine that I continue to this day.

As the stresses in my life increased it became important to introduce other methods that would help alleviate stress. Meditation started to become a leading player in my life. The creation of a space in my home that existed and was free of television and other electronic devices was significant. The space with a comfortable chair and a warm blanket, and included lavender scented candles created an environment that allowed me the ability to live in it for as long as I could spare in any given day. Sometimes that was only five minutes, but it was enough time in that day.

Meditation consisted of me closing myself in that warm, safe environment. With closed eyes, I would begin my deep-breathing and would usually think of one word that was significant to me in that moment. I repeated that word (often times it was the word “peace”) as a way of clearing the space in my brain so that I could focus solely on meditating. This extended the deep-breathing to help relieve my anxiety symptoms.

My deep-breathing techniques have recently been enhanced by my introduction of yoga. I try to practice yoga three times a week for about an hour. Yoga has allowed me to strengthen my body, while also strengthening my mind. Yoga incorporates my deep-breathing and meditation. It has brought these two calming techniques together and taught me how to stay in the moment. It has become a mainstay in my life.

Yoga’s benefits for the mind and body are important for keeping me in control and ensuring that anxiety and stress stay away.

Within these practices of breath, meditation and yoga I have found a greater sense of purpose in prayer. In these times with God I find the root of my anxiety, which grew from the absence of God in my life during those so-called “successful” years. That generalized anxiety was more specific than I ever thought.

First I learned to calm my breath, which helped me calm my mind, which empowered me to calm my body, which infused my soul with the sense of calm that flowed me wholly like a gentle river back into relationship with the God of my youth.

I still struggle with anxiety from time to time. It’s still woven in my DNA and my brain and my biology. I know that’s a part of it. But I also know like all things, there are other parts as well. I don’t worry about a “cure.” Instead I use the anxiety for what it was designed to be, a reminder to stay close to the God who created me.

Whenever I start to lose my way, I can find it again… with that first, long, deep, wonderfully cleansing breath.

Food, work, prayer: An unexpected good day

Mania can be a wonderful thing in moderation. I had a nice blast of it yesterday.
If I had to pinpoint one change — the biggest change — in my life in recovery, it’s that I have energy. I am interested in so many more things than when I was drinking. These interests motivate me and infuse me with life. I guess it could be construed as manic behavior, but it’s not hyper. It’s an energetic calm. I like it. It’s a gift of sobriety, and it played out nicely yesterday:
I wrote a story before 7 a.m. Then finished the overdue revisions of my book proposal. Then baked a pot of black beans. Then made homemade tortillas. Then with the kitchen back in service after a month of solitude, I went full force into Effin Artist favorites: I made a nice wheat bread with flax, paprika, chili and pepper.
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I made decadent triple chocolate cookies.
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I then remembered I had lost my wedding ring a couple of weeks ago in my pond. I know I lost it in the pond. The cold water made it slip off, I was certain. I had thumbed the blank spot uneasily for days, so I decided to go get it back.
I drained the entire thing and sifted the gook through my finger. No ring! I prayed for my ring while I fixed the pond all up and reworked the little waterfall to make it flow better.
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Stinking like a dead fish I decided to weed the driveway, move the planters into the back yard (protected from the deer that gave them a haircut in my absence), filled the pond and while tweaking the creek found my ring!
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Back inside I showered off the gook and decided I was hungry. I made homemade fish tacos. One bite and I was envisioning an Effin Artist taco truck in downtown SF charging $10 bucks for these with a line so long it blocks traffic. Wowsa. The Giants pounded the Twins while I ate.
fish tacos
The cookies capped off the manic day along with a prayer of gratitude for both the day and my ring (and a little cheer for the Giants win).
Good days aren’t always easy to find, but a little work, a little creativity, a little prayer and a most unexpected, welcome, grateful tired ended this one. A very good day indeed.

Mindfulness is like living on the ocean shore

A few years back The Bride and I spent nearly a month in Mexico living along the Sea of Cortez. The beautiful seas could kick up waves and whitecaps and turbulence like most great bodies of waters. But its remarkable ability for morning stillness captures my memories most. I’d get up and that enormous, powerful, mystical sea would lie calm as a lake without a ripple across its surface. The pelicans would fly low, barely above the crystal clear glass with a perfect view of the breakfast swimming below. They’d fly up and with the urgency of Robin Hood’s arrow pierce the tranquility, snatch their prey and fly back up to the skies above. The water would ripple outward at the momentary disturbance but soon return to the silent calm.

Th hectic nature of the day would rise. Fishermen would crack the water’s surface with their boats and winds would stir up the waves and the sprinkling of tourists would splash up on its shores. By mid-day the waters would resemble their natural state, sea-like, with whites and foam and curling waves.

I grew up with the powerful Pacific nearby, always within a quick drive to visit. It’s relentless power never stilled. It’s slamming shoreline never quieted. So the stillness of Cortez showed me a stark contrast that offers a silent portrait for stillness, a power my mighty Pacific has never known.

Throughout my life my mind has been the Pacific. I’d stare incredulously at The Bride when I’d ask, “what are you thinking?” and she’d reply, “nothing.”

Impossible, I thought. The idea of a silent mind was as foreign as building a house on Mars.

I learned to drink to quiet my mind. For more than twenty years I took my medicine faithfully, never once letting a night go by without some measure of calming elixir dulling the crashing waves inside my head.

The Bride struggled with anxiety in those years.  I felt such compassion for her even though I was oblivious to the idea of “worry.” I didn’t really grasp it. She once asked me — during a particularly scary time in our life with the storms of life crashing powerful waves against our existence — what I feared.

“Nothing,” I said, fully meaning it. Because the alcohol had done its work, the relentless activity of my mind had dulled and even though a storm brewed outside our doors, my mind felt calm. Ah booze, you once made me feel like Superman.

It’s this reality that causes me to resist a gentle suggestion that I consider anti-anxiety medication. I’d love my mind to slow down, but I prefer to figure a way to do it naturally through the disciplines of silence, of yoga practice, of prayer, of relationship.

So now, both sober and finding far more common ground over our anxiety, we together pursue the mindfulness that keeps life in balance. The daily activity and winds through our life whip up a good internal storm now again, but the focus on that Sea of Cortez dawn-like calm remains a daily pursuit. Some days are more Cortez like than others. The Pacific routinely makes its presence felt on our shores. But we’ve learned a few things along the way that I consider critical for finding the balance that leads to a healthy emotional, mental state.

  • Relentless truthfulness — with yourself most of all — is critical. I read from the interesting book Pastrix, by Nadia Bolz-Weber, that Jesus didn’t compare good and evil but truth and evil. We don’t overcome our evil with white-knuckled goodness but truthfulness. As Jesus said, “the truth will set you free.”
  • Honor the silence — Even if I can only go for a few minutes, the discipline of silence is worthy of practice just as I exercise my body physically. Few doubt any longer the health benefits of silent meditation. I am often ragged at best with my efforts, but it’s worth it, in particular, the intentional disconnect to the digital world this affords me.
  • Season liberally with grace — Peace is not a place we arrive to but a condition of life’s journey. We will storm through life often enough. We will, frankly, make a hot fucking mess of our lives even on our best days. I am so grateful for grace. The 11th step is the daily moral inventory, which is paramount in my life. It’s like letting the air out of the balloon that has built up all day. I still struggle with the practice of simply admitting it when I’ve screwed up. This step forces me to do so and the waves inside me calm when I do. God’s grace is so abundant. I need to be reminded of it daily.
  • Learning what is — A change in the weather often comes when I simply embrace the weather. I hear the storm inside my mind. My nerves crackle with the energy of a power line. I feel the disquiet in my chest and gut. I do best when I simply name it all. This is what is it is, I tell myself. I’m anxious. I’m pissed. I’m scared. I’m tired. Life feels shitty right now in this moment. I learn to see what it is. Because once I do so, the mother’s heart of God comforts me and reminds me, “All that is true, but your are OK. You are still here. This storm will pass.” And sure enough, soon enough, if does — and for the last 57 months, it has passed without me taking the drink I always want in times like those.
  • Avoid future tripping — Do you ever have a conversation with yourself about a future conversation coming up that you fear will be ugly? I’ve driven down the road playing out the scene I anticipate before me so thoroughly, I can’t recall the drive at all. But my body feels the experience as if it’s happened. The back and forth rehearsal, in which I’ve played all the roles, usually goes dramatically bad. I play out the future and it’s like a Shakespearean Tragedy — full of woe. Then the real event arrives and it’s rarely as bad as I anticipated. But my body went through the agony of the worst anyway. This future tripping feels real and I suffer it as real, even when I’ve done it all in my mind. Perhaps this is why Jesus gently reminded us, “Do not worry about tomorrow, today has enough troubles of its own.” Jesus never expected us not to feel anxiety, he only offered the advice of staying present, in the moment, so you only experience what’s real not the pain you envision.
  • Combine heart and head with yoga and prayer — too much of our spirituality is sedate, which gives little release to the physical needs of our bodies. Yoga has remained over the last five thousand years because it refuses to compartmentalize our souls but deals with us as what we are, a vastly interconnected human being that all needs to sync in harmony to run at peak performance. Yoga allows the body to lead the mind and connect with the soul holistically. When I couple it with prayer I simply feel better almost every time. I rib my oldest friend — a gay pastor who loves modern Evangelical church services (ugh..) — that all those antics would be better served dancing at an Ozzy concert. He tells me with a silly smile, “I love happy clappy services. I’ll admit it.” I suspect it’s like his yoga, when his body can match the worship in his mind, so maybe it’s not so bad after all.

If you struggle as I do with anxiety, and with mindfulness and the discipline of being present, I hope some of this will help. Please understand that for many — perhaps even me, who knows — the problem is a chemical dysfunction within the brain and could best be treated with medication. I don’t suggest anyone should feel bad for taking what makes them feel better, no more than a diabetic takes insulin. That choice is yours and you should do as you will. I just know that these things don’t hurt either and we all can benefit from them to a lesser or greater degree.

Namaste, God Bless, Peace, and may grace abound.

 

 

Don’t worry? Not easy but worth the effort

My bride comes by worry honestly. It’s woven into her DNA, a sort-of default status that her brain clicks to if she doesn’t give it a better alternative.

She married a guy who didn’t get it. For most of our married life, I was immune to worry, even at times when worry would have absolutely been the most sane reaction to the events at hand. But I had help. I drank. A lot. And that had an amazing ability to drown worry with bravado and recklessness before it ever got fired up.

Then I went to rehab. Guess what happened? I developed an anxiety disorder. The bride got the last laugh on that one — but alas, the bride doesn’t work like that. She simply understood better than I did the things I was feeling. She showed me all the empathy I lacked.

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I’m convinced worry has a toxic effect on our well-being. Eastern spirituality talks of it in terms of energy and aura. This is useful. A negative, worry-filled outlook colors everything else, seeping through our bodies with deleterious effect.

Rooting out the worry from our lives is one of the healthiest, hoof to head things we can do.

Now we both deal with worry in more proactive ways. I don’t drink. She tries not to ruminate and let her mind race ahead to a future of doom. We use our spiritual exercises in the morning to stay in the present and give the worry to God.

We also hike. It’s amazing how a trek past a gorgeous madrone grove (see above photo) can take your mind off the troubles you literally walked away from.

When I hike, my mind races towards gratitude. It just flows that way. The more grateful I am for the blessings of this life, the less room I have for worry.

I take comfort in the scriptures that reveal a God who, unlike me, shows tremendous empathy toward our inclination to worry. Jesus reminds us that God takes care of the worry-free lilies and birds whose needs are met. He sent his disciples out with nothing and said their needs would be provided. Before he left he gave a strong reminder:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled,” he said.

St. Paul strikes me as a guy who once suffered from some serious worry. But in one of the most tremendous passages of ancient writing (Philippians 4) he tells us “be anxious for nothing” and to simply pray instead.  From the barren loneliness of a prison cell he tells us the secret of contentedness.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” he wrote.

Paul had plenty to worry about and opted instead for joy and faith, which seems to have worked better than wine.

Don’t worry, be happy, the saying went. It wasn’t bad advice.