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Faith, Yoga

That time I left my mind behind

One day last week, I was juggling too much, which honestly is pretty much my norm. I don’t like it. But there’s not a whole lot I can do to change it in this season of life.

I was emotional because of a situation involving my daughter. I was behind schedule because I was putting everyone else’s needs first.

So when I went out to the garage to start the van and get it warmed up for an appointment that I was running late for, I left my mind inside. That’s right, I walked outside without my mind, and this is what went down:

  1. I opened the garage door.
  2. I opened the van door.
  3. I started the van.
  4. I put the van in reverse to back it out a few feet (I always do this to keep the exhaust mostly outside.)
  5. I backed up.

I do this every day, sometimes several times a day. But without my mind, the result was really quite different. Because steps 1-4 happened in mere seconds, step 5 had disastrous consequences.

I hit the garage door with my van. CRUNCH!!!!

It was not a soft hit. I mangled the inside panel of the garage door but worse than that, I knocked a pin out of the roller that allows the door to stay inside the track. Another panel was out of its plane and ripped into the wooden trim. The door was stuck and a crinkled. Somehow, my van was mostly OK. I was late for the appointment. I had to manually release and open the door. I had to call my husband and report the consequences of my negligence.

I have been driving for 28 years. I’ve lived in Illinois my whole life. I’ve warmed up my car on cold winter mornings — and evenings — since I’ve had children. That’s 15 years. That’s a lot of times of doing the same thing over and over again.

That’s life, isn’t it?

We do some things repeatedly. We do them so much, so often that we do them almost like out-of-body experiences. We aren’t mentally checked in. We disengage our beautiful minds from the present moment, the task at hand, because there’s so much on our minds.

Deadlines.
Chores.
Worries.
Obligations.
Relationships.
Hobbies.
Meetings.
Full calendars.
Impossible schedules.

Why are we surprised that we struggle to root down in the moment where we are living?

My blog headline is “That time I left my mind behind.”

I WISH it was just that time. That ONE time. Folks, it’s often most of the time. Being mindful is HARD work. To even accomplish it at all in my own life, I must be deliberate and prayerful. I can’t just expect it to happen, and I cannot do it on my own. It’s only by the power of the Holy Spirit that I can prayerfully settle into my time.

My time. Here’s another thing. It’s not really mine. The fact that I seek to control it the way I do is a symptom of a greater problem. I might be its manager, but God is the author of time. What I do with it is how I worship and glorify Him.

Does God want me to be mindful? I am sure of it.

Jesus was a perfect example of this. He went about his time with plans and intentions. Often, they were disrupted. A man in a tree. A woman touching the hem of his cloak. A complete lack of food for a massive crowd that assembled to hear him and was so engaged, they stayed.

But he didn’t pass by the tree because he was behind schedule. Or ignore the woman and go about his plans. He didn’t send the crowd away simply because there wasn’t a way to feed them.

In each instance, he slowed down. A need became apparent. He trusted God. He met the need.

10805856_10153042619676035_3694148863151524009_nWhen I think about what mindfulness is and isn’t, I realize what a gift it is. My body is restricted. It can only operate in the here and now. My mind is able to do so much more. It can obsess about the past, it can worry about the future, and it can operate completely in the present moment.

It’s an open door to sin. Or we can use this miraculous gift of the brain to be MINDFUL. Being mindful means I’m all-in when I’m worship. It means I hear the words of prayers. It means my time with God is intentional, and I’m present in my relationship with Him. It also means I’m checked in when I’m talking to my kids. I see distress on the face of a friend…or even a stranger. I recognize and can respond to grief. I can be a better witness for Christ by responding to real needs.

Eastern meditation tells us we should empty our minds. Friends, this is a dangerous practice. It’s the opposite of being mindful, in fact. To empty our minds is a cheap way out. It numbs us. It makes us unable to see and hear the needs of others. It doesn’t engage us in our own minds, to think, to connect. It is self-centered.

Yoga and especially Holy Yoga has brought me closer to a place of godly mindfulness than any other single practice. Learning how to pay attention to my inner experience — the way my muscles feel, the alignment of my skeletal system, the impact of my breathing on my whole self — are gifts of mindfulness.

The application is so much broader than my body. It extends to my mind because that’s where the recognition of the feelings is played out. If we are numb, we’ve lost ability to feel. If we can’t feel, quite simply we cannot heal. We are no good to ourselves or to others.

Slowing down to hear what my body is saying has taught me to be that way everywhere, including the checkout line of the grocery store. Be present, yoga has reminded me. Look at the cashier. Remember she has struggles, too. Offer her a smile, an encouraging word. Thank her. Pay attention to the harried mom in line behind you. Say hello. Talk to her little one. Be present.

And the ever important mindfulness tip: Try to make sure the garage door is up before you back out.

But when you have a bad day, extend yourself grace. Mindfulness is truly challenging. It is a discipline, and we can only live it as much as we practice it. And as much as the ability to be mindful is a miraculous gift, grace is even more so. The fact that we are able to practice both is another reminder of how much our heavenly Father loves us. Doing so truly honors Him!

Want to meditate on some great scriptures that remind us of the godliness of mindfulness? I love this list.  https://www.openbible.info/topics/mindfulness

Faith, Wellness

Visions are life-giving

romans12-2We began meditating on this scripture last week in regular Holy Yoga classes, and we are sitting on it this week and next week, too. It’s my favorite scripture and a great one to enter into with God in the new year.

It will also be the verse for the vision board workshop I’m holding at 7 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 14 at Peace Lutheran Church, 2800 W. Jefferson St. in Springfield. The cost is just $10 to cover materials. Click here to register. Or, bring a friend for $15 total by clicking here.

There will be a brief activity to guide you in creating a wonderful board that will inspire you in your dreams throughout 2018. If you’ve never done a vision board, I cannot recommend this enough. It’s incredibly powerful to have a visual reminder of the goals and dreams God has placed in your heart as you reach for them. When you do a vision board and especially when you post it in a visible location, you cannot help but reach your goals! I cannot wait to show you mine from 2017, pray with you and make a new board as we visit, laugh and enjoy each other’s company!

Proverbs 29:18 says, “Where there is no prophetic vision the people are discouraged…”

When is the last time you slowed down enough to ask God about His vision for your life? Let’s all stop for just a moment and pray together as we create something to remind us of the dreams He’s blessed us with! It will be a lovely experience.

There will also be Holy Yoga offered from 6-7 p.m. before the workshop. I encourage you to come and worship God through movement and breathing. If you have never tried Holy Yoga, this class is free for you! If you are a student currently, it’s a suggested $5 donation that you can pay on Jan. 14. If you’d rather skip the Paypal link to pay, just text me an RSVP to 217-801-7464. 

Outline for the class:

  1. Meditate first on Ephesians 2:10. Consider also reading the day one devotional of Andy Stanley’s 7-day Visioneering on the You Version Bible app.
  2. Pray. Find a quiet place and a few moments to simply ask for God to reveal to you His vision for your life, for your year.
  3. Complete the workshop below.
  4. VisionBoardExercise
  5. Begin to clip out images that particularly match the bold sections on the handout for your vision board. If you can’t find images in magazines, search online and print them out.
  6. Arrange them on your vision board. Embellish with quotes, written words, stickers or artwork.
  7. Most importantly, keep you vision board in a place where you will see it every day. Continue to pray over it!
Faith

The delightful wonder of waiting

Wait here…for your surprise.

Wait a moment while your table is specially prepared for you. 

You are next on the waiting list…looks like you can take the class after all! 

Can you feel the exciting undertone? The anticipation of something worthy of the wait. A surprise. A delicious dinner. Time spent with loved ones. A gift. A blessing.

It’s the essence of this season, is it not? The anticipation of something really good.

Severely sick and stuck at home, I opted for Christmas shopping online to expedite my to-do list and fill the long days. It would be two days before packages started arriving on my doorstep. I was eagerly impatient to feel the knit mermaid tail blanket I ordered my daughter. The anticipation of seeing a surprise gift for my husband would build until the order arrived on my doorstep days later.

The intangible is perhaps even more thrilling. We eagerly await the embrace of a loved one, a date night, a vacation, an adventure, our children’s opening night in the upcoming play.

There’s a crescendo of butterflies and elation as time advances onward. Waiting is JOYFUL.

Of course, try telling that to a child who is waiting until she is old enough for a smart phone or a father awaiting results from a biopsy. Waiting can feel like agony, too. For a trauma survivor, waiting can be its own form of torture.

Can we train ourselves to consider waiting in all its forms a blessing? All waiting can be joyful. Mindset is everything. Even in the midst of suffering, hardship and perseverance, we are reminded to “consider it all pure joy.” James 1:2

Waiting for life’s expected gifts is a gift in and of itself. Joyful waiting when the result is precarious requires a certain amount of self-discipline, mindfulness and a deep leaning upon the Lord. Both are oh-so-good.

Being ill with influenza reminded me of both the beauty and the pain of waiting. The beauty of knowing this virus is just temporary. I will not endlessly suffer. The emotional pain of being stuck in my house with a wild, stir-crazy toddler who was desperately tired of television. The beauty of television for such a time as this. The pain of not being able to shower her with kisses while having her so physically near.

Through it all, knowing my time is an offering. There’s little I can do. I can’t take back what I’ve lost or somehow wind it forward past my current state. In its present form, I wasn’t able to do much physically due to low energy. I could barely read or write as my eyes were watering and tired. Time is not something I can own or possess, manipulate or control.

24129914_10154879606996035_8990161831078249939_nWhat could I do? A whole lot of nothing. Rest. Stillness, in fact, is a great description. I was not sleeping, because that was also quite difficult.

So I sat, and I closed my eyes. I breathed, and I prayed. I was reminded that God is at work, He’s still and always at work. I asked Him to show me where and if and how He wants to involve me in His work. I surrendered to time in this moment and beyond. If only I was so lucky to lean on Him like this in my everyday!

What a perfect illustration for Advent. The weary world, tired from waiting generation after generation to hear from God-gone-quiet, had been long anticipating the Messiah. It must have felt incredibly lonely, desperate and heavy. I mean, 400 years! Can you even imagine?

I struggled with one week of stillness and anticipation for the next chapter in my journey.

In a way, waiting is the essence of who we are. If we cannot wait in faith, how can we walk in obedience, trust in truth, hear His voice or share His love?

Faith, Yoga

Confessions of a self-absorbed missionary

In my dreams, I had a clear “out.” It was almost like I was being protected from my own worst nightmare, because I never consciously worried about it. And in the dreams, I never had to do it.

“It” being washing feet, particularly on an upcoming mission trip.

The American surely wasn’t expected to cross the Atlantic and scrub the feet of African women.

The people would protest.

The leaders in the churches would do the washing.

God would personally swoop in and somehow rescue me, perhaps striking me with malaria or something.

I wasn’t keen on details — my dreams never come with vividness — only that somehow the very central component of my short-term mission trip to Sierra Leone would fall on someone else’s shoulders.

I never told a soul. To admit aloud that I was disgusted at the thought of washing the feet of African women certainly took my own self-worth down a few notches, and I couldn’t afford tarnishing my public image as a missionary if I confessed such a narcissistic tidbit.

But there it was. I was terrified of touching another woman’s feet. The honest-to-God truth was that I was afraid of touching anyone’s feet — except maybe babies and toddlers. It didn’t matter the color of their skin or how they spent their days.

I did not even realize this was a fear of mine until I was confronted with it. Soon my soul was seized with a fear much deeper than touching the feet of strangers. I had to question the dark side of my own heart as I wrestled with the possibility that my capacity to love others was not at all what it seemed.

I could blame it all on my friend Jan, who came up with this devotional spa experience. It involved facials, neck wraps and a simple foot treatment. None of it required us to touch the women we were ministering to. Feet were a very small part, and no water was even involved. Until our first big public event, when a woman approached us and offered to do foot soaks.

That was the birth of a spa experience that retold the story of Jesus washing His disciple’s feet. I wrote a script, and we held many foot soak events. I actually loved hosting these events and watching the live revelation of girls and women as they meditated on God’s word. Everything about this ministry is to share the love of our heavenly Father, to spread truth about who we are, how much we matter and how much God loves us told through the experience of Christ in his last hours before crucifixion.

Paula, my friend and full-time missionary in Sierra Leone, and I took so much delight in talking and planning an event for the women there. I was bringing my teen daughter on her first mission trip, and Paula’s daughters, who are about the same age as Abby, were all involved in the plans. We were going to do spas and lunch for the women at four church plants in small villages in the peninsula.

It was thrilling to get our creativity flowing on long phone calls while my baby napped and we prayed over details. Until we got to the foot spa. Clearly using water for each woman to enjoy a foot soak was not feasible there. Water is a scarcity, plus it had to be hauled from the well. We explored options, but it was clear that foot washing stations would be practical. It also occurred to us that such a hands-on component would truly be much more meaningful.

In the states, we avoid touch during ministry because we want to be particularly sensitive to triggers of abuse.

Only at one event — a spa for the board of a ministry — did we roll up our sleeves, get on the floor, wash and massage. At first, I was not only on board with the idea, but I loved it. However, as I rotated my hands to the underside of a woman’s feet, she stiffened. The soles of her feet were incredibly rough, like nothing I’d ever touched. She was so self-conscious she didn’t need to say a word because her body language was throwing up stop signs. I was sweating. I didn’t want to drop her feet so quickly that the entire room noticed, but I didn’t want to linger. I was determined to not let her think I cared, because I didn’t, but I couldn’t help but wonder if my own body language told a story of my shock when I felt her skin. The more I thought about it, the more awkward I felt. I was upset at myself, because all I wanted to do was help her feel loved. Because my heart was pure, I kept applying more lotion to her feet, insistent on giving her the foot rub she didn’t want. In the end, she simply felt more embarrassed. I was sweating profusely as her toes began to curl in protest.

Somehow in my naiveté, I had made this ministry all about me. Instead of asking this woman, serving her based on her comfort and her needs, I did what I wanted. I stayed when I shouldn’t have. I touched when I knew it was uncomfortable. It was a complete reflection of the way I had been serving in ministry to this point. It was all about me.

I wish I could say I figured this out later that evening or even the next week. It was still years before I recognized my own selfishness in this situation and so many others. Even in planning this mission trip, it was obviously still all about me — even if I wouldn’t admit it. I mean, the dreams were a complete manifestation of my selfishness.

A different continent with a completely unique culture meant that there wouldn’t be the kind of American self-consciousness I had experienced, so I wouldn’t be blindsided this time. For me, washing feet was associated with its own trigger — one of my own ignorance and arrogance. I just didn’t know it at the time.

Instead of exploring the reasons I was resistant, I ignored my feelings. I became emotionally numb as I planned and thought about the spa in Sierra Leone.

I had only one thing going for me at this point. I trusted God. I knew if my fears were warranted on even the most self-absorbed level, He would protect me. In that sense, I did not think much about it, though it didn’t stop my fears from surfacing in dreams where — oddly enough — I was never required to wash a single foot.

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My lovely friend Paula who was a gracious host and leader, never hesitating on foot washing. I admire her so much! 

We had a bumpy transition into Sierra Leone. My daughter fell ill, vomiting and getting a low fever in our first day. She was not feeling great even two days later when we held our first event for the female leaders from the churches.

 

I could have been worrying about her. I could have been obsessing over the feet washing. Instead, I was calm and at peace. I often marvel about God’s grace, that it would extend even to me and even when I was awash in self-absorption.

As I spoke and looked into the eyes of these beautiful women — these devoted mothers and hard-working entrepreneurs, these grandmas and committed Christ followers, worship leaders and spiritual servants — something completely unexpected transpired. I actually desired to wash their feet, so much so that I got defensive about it. I practically didn’t want to share the blessing of washing their feet with anyone else. This euphoric feeling blew over me like a wave just at the sight of these lovely ladies.

And then in the cramped, dark church with hard, dirty floors, I knelt down and began to wash — scrubbing with one washcloth and then drying with another. Some feet were tiny, some surprisingly soft; others were long, most were rough; some were wrinkly and scarred. But they all told stories.

Can you imagine all these feet have borne witness to? Lost love. Grief. Suffering. Indescribable joy. Back-breaking work. Loss of faith. Miracles.

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I did it!!! Here I am, absorbed in foot washing! 

I only had precious few minutes with each woman, so as I washed, I prayed. I prayed over her suffering — past or present — and her story. I prayed for God to pour out His blessings on her. I did not look away or sweat or feel anxious in any way. I let the Holy Spirit guide me, and I watched. I took my cues from the women. If something seemed to tickle them, I stopped. If they seemed to enjoy a touch, I lingered there for an extra moment. My eyes absorbed every scar, every wrinkle, every unique marking and I held reverence and esteem there. Rather than being numb to what they’ve experienced, I invited my presence to acknowledge the difficulty of a life lived.

 

I may never understand a reality of an outdoor kitchen, cooking over fire or hand washing laundry and dishes in plastic tubs all while living in one-room hut-like houses. With these sweet sisters, I shared the common emotions of grief, anxiety and fear, just as our deep faith bonded us in the feelings of faith, peace and joy. As moms, we knew patience — or perhaps the challenge of holding onto it — well. We could both testify to the resolve of self-control and discipline. Without sharing a language, we both knew the pain of childbirth, the agony of teenage hormones and the beauty of nursing.

I stored these truths in my heart and pondered them. What a treasure for me to learn that I could, indeed, love more deeply.

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My beautiful daughter coming out of her shell, playing and singing for a crowd of kids who lingered to learn what we were doing with their moms!

As the days passed, we continued serving at these events. My daughter was beginning to come around, to be present and aware. Word was spreading about the spas, and when we arrived at the third church, the leaders in Bunga Wharf must have gathered every woman in the entire village. The pavilion was bursting with estrogen and energy.

 

At the same time, one of Paula’s daughters was becoming sick with malaria. Unbeknownst to me until later, the loud chatter among the crowd as we washed their feet included some who were mocking Christ.

I briefly exited the event to be with Paula’s daughter, to check on her and comfort her.

When her dad arrived, I left her to go back to the pavilion. As I stood just outside, the obnoxious noise of demanding women in my sightline, I lifted my gaze. Framing the pavilion was the most gorgeous view of the mountains, lush with trees. Behind me, though I couldn’t see it, was the ocean. I imagined what the view would be like from up high, surrounded by the most beautiful of all creation and looking at the infinite gorgeous water and beaches.

An introvert, I very much enjoy time outside, connecting with God through nature. At our house in Athens, there was a vast field with one rather large, intricate old tree of thick, winding branches rising up from the middle and perfectly framed by our bedroom window. Every day, the sun would rise behind it with a new spectacular display of live art — a daily kiss from my heavenly Father.

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Foot washing in Bunga Wharf, where it was loud, crowded and spiritually challenging. 

Anytime I felt overwhelmed with the stress of life and relationships, I hopped on my bike either on back country roads or to a nearby bike trail taking my Bible, journal and snacks to stay and pray as long as I needed to in order to recharge. I often went on nature hikes with my children near our house, exploring the creek, woods, trails. When we moved from Athens to Springfield, I can now hop on a bicycle trail that crosses Lake Springfield just around the corner from our house. Our back yard is adjacent to the woods. Deer come into our yard, which attracts all kinds of gorgeous birds. The sun doesn’t rise to an open field, but it peeks through the trees creating a different kind of awesome display.

My soul is calmed by the beauty of creation. It inspires me, reminds me of God’s love for me, offers me peace, recharges my energy and faith. So in that moment, I peered above the rambunctious pavilion and mentally transported myself to the mountain.

God, I prayed, how I wish I could be up there communing with you in that peaceful sanctuary surrounded by your MOST beautiful of creation — mountains, the sea, forest.

He so quickly interrupted my thoughts with a correction I didn’t even know I needed.

Amy, my most beautiful of all creation is indeed nearby. It is there, in that pavilion. Can’t you see these women are far more precious to me than any of these other living things?  

Gulp. The realization hit me fast and intensely. He was, of course, right. It was the message I needed to hear.

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My friend Paula is speaking truth over one of the women after a spa. I admire this lady so much and love being her student, though she’d say she’s not trying to be my teacher. She’s the best kind of teacher; I learn so much from her!

Here I was halfway across the world not so I could do some great mission for Him and get accolades for it. I wasn’t here to sprawl out on beaches or climb mountains or even to enjoy sunsets — even if I was blessed to experience all of those things. It was here where He needed to remind me what a blessing it is to have the opportunity to love His most important, beloved of all creation. And it was as much about those loud, mocking women as it was the women back in Springfield, my friends and even my family. Those hardest to love, like the ones being unkind and — if we’re totally honest — our own kids some days, we can only love by the power of Christ in us. It’s only by drawing on His truths and grace that I can act in love toward anyone, myself included.

God’s correction wasn’t done because He was angry with me or even frustrated with me. He loves me so much that He wanted to remind me the sacredness of humanity above all. He got my attention. Because as beautiful as that setting truly was, He says I’m even more beautiful. What an amazing truth!

God prying open my heart was just the beginning of my year and of my healing. Once He had it open, He began ministering to me in unexpected ways, filling cracks with more of His love.

A horrendous back injury that began in Sierra Leone persisted days and weeks after my return. Once I had succumbed to the fact that I couldn’t exercise the same way I had been, I decided to try yoga. It seemed like the only type of exercise my body would tolerate.

Not only did my body tolerate it, but it found healing in yoga class. The absolute comfort and repair that happened on my mat naturally led my thoughts to the healing power of Christ. I wondered if anyone was combining yoga and Christianity. Later I began my search of a Jesus-centered yoga class.

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I find it amazing that God will use our weaknesses, our struggles and our failings to be a witness to others. I love the ministry of Holy Yoga that takes a “go first” approach. Leaders aren’t special; they are simply called to be servants in their own suffering. Only in confessing and healing my own hurts am I any good to come alongside others in ministry. 

I discovered Holy Yoga, which wasn’t offered anywhere around Springfield, and I couldn’t put it out of my mind. I was praying about whether God would really want me to pursue a certification. Normally, this would be too big a cost for me to even consider, but in late 2016 a friend gifted me a large amount of money to use in a way that would help me help more people. I didn’t even know what to do with that sum of money, so I was waiting for God to speak. As I recounted my story to a friend as we were driving and told her I was praying for God to be clear as a billboard sign about it, we pulled behind a car at a light that was covered with yoga bumper stickers. He sent my billboard, and it was time to trust and obey.

My journey to discover the depths of my capacity to love continued during my Holy Yoga certification and retreat. I found myself again struggling with self-love in some of the darkest days of my life. Fighting an infection in my gut for months of lingering digestive issues and irritation, I sank into a depression that I could not manage. I woke at 2 a.m. one morning thinking that my unmanageable illness was such a burden on my loved ones that perhaps they might be better off without me. The thought fully woke me, and I grabbed my Bible and journal, bringing my thoughts into His healing light was the only thing I knew to

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Another of my favorite things about Holy Yoga is the beautiful sisterhood. Encouragement and non-judgement required. I had an amazing cabin of sisters in Christ. 

do. He reminded me then of the importance of loving myself so that I can love my neighbors, a message He continued to pour into me in heavy doses in the spring. God filled more of my heart with His love in the crevices of doubt and despair.

But it was my first time teaching Holy Yoga where He showed up with yet another challenge. I was blessed by the touch techniques used on me at my training retreat, where instructors would come and — almost like the laying of hands in prayer — lightly massage our shoulders, faces, hands and feet during yoga classes. I sensed God wanted me to step out in faith and do the thing I most dreaded and offer massage during my first three classes.

I felt awkward and unqualified not only to teach Holy Yoga but to bring a healing touch to the 15 ladies who worshipped at the retreat with me. As the event came to a close, I shared with them this story — my experience in Africa and how very much I did not want to touch them at the start of the weekend.

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The women at the summer retreat. They were able to experience the love and healing power of Christ thanks to ministry donors and scholarships. 

But as I stood over these women, laying on their mats eyes closed in very vulnerable states, I felt like God offered me His perspective, showing me the unique beauty of each of these lovely ladies. He revealed to me the depths of His love for each one. I was so completely overwhelmed by the power and immensity of His love and the beauty in their faces that I was brought to tears.

As we worshipped together, it became obvious the hurt and abuse so many of them had suffered, often at the hands of family who professed to love them most of all. We shared our stories, were exposed together, confessed deep hurts, prayed audacious prayers and cried a river of tears. Women at all stages of life were present, including teenagers, and in various states of belief. What Satan intended for us to keep in darkness, we dragged out into the light.

I believe it was a microcosm of society, and exactly the reflection I needed to see to be encouraged to continue on — in loving, in ministry and in using the tool of Holy Yoga and the spa messages to bring healing and hope through the light of Jesus Christ to everyone.

Best of all was the kind of love I learned to have. It wasn’t theologically prideful (believe me, I’ve had plenty of that in my past) or selfish. If 2017 taught me anything, it was that my ability to love knows no boundary. It runs deeper than I’d imagined, and it has the capacity for a grace that mirrors the grace I’ve been given.

What this meant in my home was the best news. When I travelled to Sierra Leone with my teen daughter, we were barely tolerating one another’s presence. We were hugging on occasion upon our return. Yes, I kind of pushed myself on her as I realized that just because she was pulling away didn’t mean I had to. I teased her with texts linking to studies about the scientific benefits of hugs and touch. But we had serious talks, too, to assure her I would always be there. Hugging reminded her subconsciously as the endorphins were released and emotionally as memories of our affectionate past flooded her mind that touch is therapeutic. As the days, weeks and months passed, we began to have long, honest conversations. Tears have been shed. Hugs have been deeply healing. My ears are finally open to hear all of my children and my husband, too. And even my strong-willed, independent toddler is getting a little more freedom as I learn to love her in ways that matter to her and aren’t self-serving.

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Here I am at the orphanage in Sierra Leone with all the girls that we did the spa for. I love how every trip and mission opportunity, no matter how small, changes my heart. God is so good!

In this way, God has been preparing me to minister — in my home, in my community, on mission trips and in my own heart.

When I contemplate the variety and stunning exquisiteness of hundreds of unique sunrises I have enjoyed from just one vantage point, when I feel the softness of sand as I take walks on breath-taking beaches, when I stand small beneath the mountains and take in the wonder of creation, I get glimpses of a loving God. But when He performs miracles in a stubborn, hard heart, His powerful light casts out shadows of doubt to reveal the transforming beauty within that makes even the most picturesque of creation seem dim by comparison. Yes, Jesus loves me. Even me.

“We must not forget that true power, at whatever level, is service,
Which has its luminous summit on the Cross.
For God, authority is always synonymous with service, humility and love.
It means to enter into the logic of Jesus, who bends down to wash feet.”
— Pope Francis

 

 

Faith

Am I too busy for God?

On the list of questions I don’t want to ask myself, this one ranks pretty high.

I admit I am not living the life I want. I wonder: Are you?

I have this vision of a slower life, a simple pace and a schedule that allows me to cook homemade dinners for my family, tend to a garden, pray, finish the books I’ve been reading all year, study my Bible more intently, read endlessly with my toddler (well, until her attention wanes), create art and laugh with my older children, go on long leisurely dates with my husband, write to my heart’s content and earn enough money in a job where I get to help other people that I have time for all of this.

This is fantasy, of course. But I think it would make God smile, because it’s my heart’s desire. I think He wants me to have it, too, but I am not sure how.

But here are the thoughts that immediately come to mind:

Live with less. That’s a possibility and a distinct reality I’ve lived. Using Financial Peace University, we changed our spending (and borrowing) habits before. There’s almost always something that can be cut from our budget. If only I can find the time to sit down and discover what that is! Since the teens are sucking the most out of our budget, it’s a great opportunity to sit down with them and teach them about money, too. Of course, I can’t help but think it’s time for my middle child to experience a mission trip where he can see up close and personal poverty that he could not even imagine. But that costs money.

Faith. A mission trip, while frugal-sounding, requires a lot of faith. I’ve been there before. Many times. And God has been faithful. So I don’t want to be so practical, so black-and-white, so rigid with rules that I miss the opportunity to be part of something God wants me to experience.

Relationship with Jesus. So often, I try to do all the heavy lifting in life. If only we had a bit more money almost certainly means I should work more. This is a mindset that I constantly struggle with. I am again feeling God calling me out into mission work — not just any mission work but the kind that involves serving those who cannot afford to pay for my help. That means finding supporters and sponsors, and it’s the least favorite part of this for me. The only way I can even manage this is to draw close to Christ, even as I resist. He has the answers, and I doubt it involves taking on a minimum wage job so I can offer trauma sensitive Holy Yoga to those survivors of trauma who want to reclaim their body and mind.

Where does this leave me?

Instead of being busy doing, it’s time to get busy being. I want my life to reflect my heart: slow, simple, caring, coaching, encouraging, leaving behind fingerprints of God’s work and the miracle that it’s done through His people with skeptical, busy, hurting hearts.

In one of my Holy Yoga classes last week, we meditated on this scripture:

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Psalm 139: 23

It has me really doing some down-on-my-knees work. Clearing space — if not in my schedule, in my mind and heart — to let God be God and do what I can’t do. In my anxiety, I don’t have all the answers. But knowing I’m not supposed to have all the 12072529_10153058742986035_4444701999120639061_nanswers can be quite freeing.

What if what I am searching for isn’t really about what’s “out there,” the external stuff, but what’s inside. How I seize every opportunity to be alive in all my emotions, to love bigger, to serve more, to empathize more deeply, to take every opportunity to live inside the moments I’m given — no matter what I’m doing in those moments. The good thing about God is that even in the seasons when I KNOW I’m not making the time for Him that I should, He isn’t the one who makes a fuss out of it. He’s always grateful for when and how I show up. The good news is that “praying without ceasing” and staying connected to the branch don’t come with a long set of rules. In fact, there are no rules at all. Just His love and grace, always present no matter what I’ve done or haven’t done.

Let me leave you with these words, written by Omid Safi, a columnist for the website publication, On Being. This was written three years ago and continues to circulate social media, so powerful the imagery.

“In many Muslim cultures, when you want to ask them how they’re doing, you ask: in Arabic, Kayf haal-ik? or, in Persian, Haal-e shomaa chetoreh? How is your haal?

“What is this haal that you inquire about? It is the transient state of one’s heart. In reality, we ask, ‘How is your heart doing at this very moment, at this breath?’ When I ask, ‘How are you?’ that is really what I want to know.

“I am not asking how many items are on your to-do list, nor asking how many items are in your inbox. I want to know how your heart is doing, at this very moment. Tell me. Tell me your heart is joyous, tell me your heart is aching, tell me your heart is sad, tell me your heart craves a human touch. Examine your own heart, explore your soul, and then tell me something about your heart and your soul.

“Tell me you remember you are still a human being, not just a human doing. Tell me you’re more than just a machine, checking off items from your to-do list. Have that conversation, that glance, that touch. Be a healing conversation, one filled with grace and presence.

“Put your hand on my arm, look me in the eye, and connect with me for one second. Tell me something about your heart, and awaken my heart. Help me remember that I too am a full and complete human being, a human being who also craves a human touch.”

To read the entirety of his column, click HERE.

 

Faith

Talk about your blessings…always

A few years ago, I decided I would do an Advent or Lent challenge. Honestly, I don’t remember which. But it was pretty involved. I loved it, but on top of everything else on my plate, I could not keep up. I remember a very strong sense from the Lord saying to me, “Who said you HAD to do this?”

We are JUSTIFIED in our faith through the free gift of grace. It requires absolutely nothing of us. We can’t keep enough rules and laws, do enough good deeds, pray more or attend church regularly to change our salvation. It comes only via Christ, who invites us into relationship with the most light and easy yoke.

When Nov. 1 hit and seemingly all my friends were doing gratitude challenges on social media, I paused. I am a Holy Yoga teacher and a personal (health) coach, so maybe I SHOULD be doing this daily post of gratitude. IMG_0389

That was all it took. Instantly I realized that with a very full plate, a husband leaving town for a week, finishing up my trauma-sensitive certification, tech week for a theater program in our house and my daughter’s birthday plus Thanksgiving…I didn’t want a burden.

Hear me clearly. Being thankful isn’t the burden. Feeling like you HAVE to do something can be burdensome. And just because I’m not posting on social media does not mean I am NOT practicing gratitude. In fact, sometimes a private practice can be far more rewarding.

For instance, one year I set aside $20 in my monthly budget to do a gratitude gift or gifts. I can’t remember if I was “perfect” about doing it every month, but I do recall some great opportunities to personally let people know how much I think of them with a small gift or gift card.

Another year, we prayed on the way to school for two things we were thankful for every single morning. We also prayed for two people the Holy Spirit brought to mind in that very moment. Some very neat things transpired from that.

While the Facebook challenge is great for people who appreciate words of affirmation, that’s not everyone’s love language. So perhaps a small gift or act of service would actually speak more clearly about how you value them.

My point is this: If you are feeling “less than” for not doing what everyone else is doing, please don’t. Find a way to practice gratitude that works for you. All that matters is that you allow yourself to explore the art (and science) of thanksgiving.

If you are doing the social media thing and you’re tempted to be offended (maybe you even stopped reading due to your offensiveness), I’m certainly NOT criticizing you! Some of the best mindset shifts come from having a discipline, even for a short period of time. This challenge can have a profound impact on you and on the lives of people you are lifting up. Way to go!

Do me a favor, whatever it is you’re doing, don’t stop when November has ended. Gratitude is a practice. It actually doesn’t come naturally for most people. And it’s not modeled well in our culture. But it’s super powerful.

Faith, Wellness

Sometimes I walk…or run real slow

After I wrote about my six-mile run and how proud I was that I could finish that race with an amazing time, I began thinking about a half-marathon. I was technically halfway through the training and on pace for training for the one that would be held in Springfield in mid-October.

Pardon me. It seemed like a no-brainer. So I jumped right back into distance training the weekend after the Abe’s Amble.

I ran four miles from my house, so that when I turned, I would run the required eight miles for that Sunday. Except right around the turning point, I had pain so severe it was accompanied by pain. Radiating pain from my deep glutes to the bottom of my foot.

I walked and ran real slow the second half, the pain never alleviated. It was slow because I was proud of my time, though in reality it wasn’t THAT slow. It was slow because God had some things to say. It was slow because I was suffering emotionally as much as I was physically.

I’m 43. I’ve suffered a few rather severe health conditions. I’ve birthed three children. I’ve reclaimed my health. I’ve lost significant weight. I’ve become stronger. I’ve experienced new, chronic back problems.

I was arguing with God that I might miss the chance to run a half marathon in my lifetime if I didn’t do it now.

He, as you might imagine, didn’t care. Well, that’s not true. He did and does care very much about my feelings, my aspirations, my past and my future.

But in that agonizing four miles, He reminded me that His care for me includes seasons of slow, of rest and of healing. And that if I can’t lay down my prideful thinking, my own goal-setting and pick up what He has for me, then I may very well miss out on something even better than a half-marathon.

I don’t know what that is. He hasn’t revealed it to me yet. But I’m learning in my relationship with Him that it’s best to surrender. He is indeed my GOOD FATHER. And if He is saying this season is not my time, then I trust Him. Even if I don’t like it.

And that’s hard. It very much reminds me of the verse I’ve been meditating on in my Holy Yoga Trauma-Sensitive studies this week, the one I shared with one of my Holy Yoga classes: “I have told you these things so that you may have peace in Me. In the world you will have much trouble. But take hope! I have power [to overcome] the world.” John 16:33

The most important thing in this scripture is the relationship. When life is hard, when I don’t get my way, when my body doesn’t cooperate, when I’m going astray, when I’m leaning toward something to make into my god, when I am stubborn and prideful, I still haven’t lost hope. My peace is in HIM. My hope is in HIM. Without that relationship, I have nothing.

I’m also reminded that if Jesus has power to overcome the world, than with Him by my side, a half-marathon is NEVER out of the realm of possibility. This fall, this year…it’s not my season. And that’s OK, too.

shutterstock_107814275-1080x675I haven’t stopped running. I haven’t stopped tracking my time. I run more slowly. That in itself makes me smile. I notice more. I hear Him more. I feel His presence. Because I’ve set aside the “it’s all about me” attitude. I’m not running for me. I’m running for HIM and with HIM. Guess what? I enjoy it more than ever.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’m no theologian. But for me, God’s word does hold ultimate truth and smaller truth that is more personal, more driven by the Holy Sprit. For me, it’s something that pertains to a season in my life that has little to do with the historical context of the scripture but everything to do with God’s perspective on my situation. It releases me from having to be a Bible scholar and just trusting that God’s word is for everyone and always has something to say, no matter our educational level. So when I read the words of 1 Corinthians 9:24 and I realize that many runners may very well have taken it verbatim, and that’s OK, I’m reminded that my race today isn’t what I thought it would be. No half marathon, but I still get to compete. I still have an opportunity to be the one who gets the prize. Praise be to God, with my weary body, that my race might be one right into my Creator’s arms where He is offering stillness and healing that I need in the hear and now.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 1 Cor. 9:24

 

Faith

Yikes! I’m a missionary…now what?

I’m also the last to know, the last to accept, the last to believe.

Five years ago, I was led to start a ministry. That was my J-O-B, for lack of a better description. You’d think I would have considered myself a missionary then. But no. I’m a stubborn creature.

For five years, I’ve stumbled around — sometimes accepting God’s plan and other times, trying to force my own (that’s a whole novel I won’t write because it’s, well, dull) — but never accepting that I could be PAID for ministry work.

If I would have made my vision board on Jan. 1 this year, it would be all wrong. In mid-January, after a trip to Sierra Leone where I was blessed to share the gospel with women and girls at four rural churches, I came home and was broken. Physically, my back was a wreck. And all my plans for the year dissolved. I’m glad I hadn’t written them down yet.

God breathed new life into my broken body in February and called me into a new mission field on the yoga mat. I would never have conceived it in my wildest imagination. But I asked Him to be super loud and clear because it was so unusual. He was.

In obedience, I went. Wouldn’t you know it, Holy Yoga melds beautifully with the healing body and soul spas I have been doing in ministry for more than three years, the very ministry God rebirthed from Mighty Strong Girls into Mirror Image. Physical. Emotional. Mental. Spiritual. All components of our being, holistically wrapped together around the common theme of the gospel. A complete message to be shared with women and girls anywhere. Tangible gifts of healing that the Holy Spirit ordains. Movement and breath, paired with meditation on scripture that can be a perpetual tool to draw others into a relationship with Christ. A ministry to open up the eyes of women who have become self-loathing, swallowed up by anxiety or plagued by addiction so they can see the Father’s love for them. Right there in the midst of their hurting.

As my mentor wisely pointed out, it will be hard for me to take on this full-time ministry if I don’t take something off my plate. I’m not sure what it will be yet, but I have three small “paying jobs,” and I would need to replace the income of one or two of those so I can release them. I’m finally resolved that charging for special events and for Holy Yoga classes is more than OK. After all, pastors and missionaries have an income. If I’m called into full-time ministry work, and I have accepted that I am, then it’s acceptable for it to come with a salary.

Here’s where it gets hard for me. I’ve been doing this long enough to know the women and girls who need and want these messages and this ministry most cannot afford it. My heart desires to use this tool in shelters, prisons and for those in poverty. So while I can charge for some events, I’ll also need supporters who will send me to the places I believe Jesus most wants me to go! Among the upcoming projects are specialized training in Holy Yoga, including trauma sensitive, so I can work with women who are in very difficult situations, and a book/CD that will help women anywhere use the Mirror Image spa as a ministry tool in their church or community. I’m willing to go, and I’m even willing to do the hardest part and ask….can you give? Would you prayerfully consider supporting me so I can share hope and healing with God’s beloved?

These are photos of me, taken by my beautiful friend Ali, at our first “trial run” retreat in Springfield, Illinois in early June. I was clearly expressing the fullness of JOY this weekend, confident in who and whose I am, free to be and share in obedience. I am working with friends in other states to bring similar retreats to women in other areas. I’d be honored if you would consider Mirror Image/Holy Yoga for an event at your church or organization.

xoxoxo,

Amy

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Faith, Finances, Mommy stuff, Wellness

Don’t just dream it…DO IT!

I’ve been blogging and “Facebooking” about dreaming and goal setting for years. I’m addicted to it. Truly.

Because it works!

I used to just “make a resolution.” But you know how that story goes…

Last year I found a system for setting up goals in several areas of life. I had some great success with it. But after linking arms with my friend Lisa, we combined our ideas and ditched what doesn’t work to present a program with the best tips, tricks and tools for making your dreams become a reality.

We are excited to share with you what we’ve learned and get creative during this fun session. You can click on the Eventbrite link below the flier to register now!

vision casting flier

Eventbrite - Victory Vision-casting

Faith, Mommy stuff

Better watch out: Love doesn’t require goodness

I giggled as I pulled up behind a very festive car this week with three Christmas-themed stickers on the back. Two emphatically demanded keeping “Christ in Christmas,” while a very jolly looking Santa warned that “You better be good.”

For goodness sake, we probably OUGHT to be good.

But because we cannot possibly be, God sent Jesus. The ultimate atonement for our sins — past, present and future — Jesus gives us hope that even when we try out best and can’t be good, we still represent goodness.

Little did I know several days ago when I recognized the immediate irony of the two juxtaposed messages that it would speak to the depths of my heart on Christmas.

Without divulging too many details, we had the most awful Christmas morning ever. Sure, we could have “Fakebooked” something that made it looked picture perfect. But emotions were high after our gift opening, and Dan and I did something unheard of. We left with the baby and went to church alone.

Once I was out of the house to get distance, time, and clarity to breathe, the message of goodness could seep into my every pore. The fact that Jesus came to die for my personal redemption meant that even a day was not lost. It could be redeemed.

We drove. We reflected. I cried.

A homeless woman with a sign was at an intersection. I dug in my person but could only find a single dollar.

She handed me a homemade ornament that I tried not to take. I could tell it had a message on it, and I — like always — assumed someone else needed it more than me. So prideful.

But when I tried to turn it away, she insisted and said, “My hands are clean.”

That statement about broke my heart and sent me into a new wave of waterworks.

I flipped over the ornament to find this message: “You are loved and adored by Jesus! May He bless u w/His truth, Joy, Peace and Hope!”

IMG_3594We wandered into an unexpected church — a place where we wouldn’t be asked questions about why half our family was missing, a place where I could cry if I wanted without stares.

The messages affirmed what I’d read on my homemade ornament…that a baby Jesus didn’t come for those in power, or wealth or position. He came for the lowly, the broken. He came for me.

We knew the imperfection of our morning was indicative of the entire Christmas story. We knew it didn’t matter who was at fault, because we were. And truly, there was enough blame to go around to everyone, except Tatum, of course! It wasn’t about pointing fingers. It was about forgiveness and grace.

So is Christmas. A love so great.

We went back to see if the homeless woman wanted to join us for dinner. She was gone.

Like the Christmas stickers, an ironic juxtaposition. I thought I would minister to her, but she showed me more about the love of Jesus on a rainy street corner on Christmas morning.

We arrived home eager to slather grace all over our children, assuming they would be locked in their rooms. They weren’t.

They extended grace to us. A clean house. A very amazing, special breakfast waiting on the table. A day redeemed. Relationships restored. The message of Christmas came alive in our home. What seemed like the worst Christmas ever became the absolute best.