Breathe in Awareness

 

I made a blunder when I hit the “publish” button rather than the “save draft” button on the last post. Some of you received an e-mail ready to read my post, only to get “Oops, this page couldn’t be found.”

I must confess another blunder several posts ago when I copied the wrong RSS feed and published another subscriber’s comment to everyone. I imagine some of you got unwanted email from me that day. This part of my apology is overdue. At the time, I spent a lot of energy with a tech from my e-mail service to figure out what I did wrong so it could be fixed right away. I was hoping you would overlook it at the time. Now I’m wondering that the combination of these blunders may be eroding the trust I’m trying to build with you.

You deserve quality content and utmost respect for your email inbox. I confess my inexperience and impulsivity. Please forgive me. I do want to assure you that I’m continuing to learn, and grow, and develop as I write and post.

With that, I’m taking a deep breath now. . .

This is the portion I intended to send.

Most of us have experienced certain conversations that require us to take in deep breaths of air. Whether the communication is personal or business related, we might experience a gasp of excitement or shock. Our bodies respond with involuntary rhythms of air through our lungs. Anticipation, dread, worry, fear, and energy are signals to the soul.

Perhaps it’s God’s way of getting our attention.

Not only particular conversations need deep breaths of air, but certain circumstances do. For example, I’ve experienced waves of anxiety where the walls of the room seemed to be closing in on me. Other symptoms like shallow breathing or sweaty palms can interfere in the moment.

Medical procedures usually trigger such responses. My breathing became shallow while sitting in the dentist chair as I anticipated a root canal procedure. Another time, during a yearly mammogram, I almost fainted because I forgot to breathe. It was so embarrassing!

Other than occasional moments of forgetting to breathe, most of us don’t even think about it. We’re able to take in a deep breath of air. . . . we can breathe in openness. . . we can breathe in courage . . . we can breathe in the air around us.

Breathing in air is so natural for most of us, isn’t it?

. . .unless we’re a newborn baby emerging from our mother’s womb gasping for our first.

. . . unless we’re on our deathbed, gasping for our last.

Everything in between birth and death is our substance for life: AIR.

May each of us breathe in the apologies that we need to make. . . the forgiveness we need to give. . . the learning curve we need to learn. . . the continued risk beyond our comfort. The breathing space between our birth and death are the choices we make.

Thank you for your patience. I’d love your feedback!

Five lessons for Dad – Cats in the Cradle

Many of us Baby Boomers can still sing the words to Harry Chapin’s song, The Cats in the Cradle. A Nissan commercial debuted during Super Bowl combined the 1974 classic with a series of short video images resurrecting deep emotions for those of us tuned in.

Attention grabbing images show the joyful birth of a newborn son growing through stages of childhood and adolescence. Moody teenager, absent dad, worried mom, and dad’s accident on the racetrack fit the lyrics. The little boy is left wondering when his dad is coming home. Dad kept promising later.

All ends well in ninety seconds with the connection of a loving dad and understanding son smiling at each other driving off in a new Nissan.

The messages portrayed are: Life is valuable. Relationships are resilient. Teenagers understand. New Nissans satisfy and are safe. Yes, we can connect with those messages. . . or can we?

Generational Patterns

Chapin’s lyrics express regret of an older dad who missed out on the seasons of his young son’s life. Business trips and career-building were stronger messages than the ten year-old’s voice, who thanked his dad for the ball and asked him to play. Dad responded again, with another excuse. He had other things to do.

Dads who parent well, take the time to tune into the lives and emotions of their sons and daughters. They are able to put their smaller agendas aside. They are able to see a larger perspective. They are not only raising small children and moody teenagers; they are raising future husbands and wives; dads and moms.

Five things every dad needs to know.

Here are factors that give perspective for wise fathering.

1. Know your own history well. Admit and grieve thoroughly your childhood gaps.

Take time to remember and make sense of your past. Be courageous to face the loss and pain of childhood. Unclaimed resentment, anger, and bitterness may have settled in your soul like a clogged up drain. Feel what needs to be felt. Forgive what needs to be forgiven. Move past the residue of the past. Put it in it’s proper meaning and place.

2. Be aware of generational patterns in your family tree.

Rather than criticizing extended family members, take time to hear their stories. Examine the positive and negative traits passed down from your relatives. Be willing to own both your strengths and weaknesses. Be intentional about growing your character beyond what was passed onto you

3. Look for dads whose parenting you admire. 

We find what we look for. Be intentional about looking for role models; those who have raised their sons and daughters well. Look for those who have close connection and understanding with their teenagers or adult children. Spend time with these dads. Ask questions. Be vulnerable with them.

4. Respect the opinions of your children’s mother.

Keep in mind that mothers know and feel connections with their children. Many are natural at tuning into their needs. Talk through differences. Partner with your children’s mother. Seek outside counseling rather than settle into chronic disagreements. Protect your children from the insecurity of troubled parenting.

5. Respect the otherness of your children.

Children are are separate people, worthy of love, respect, and belonging. They are not objects to be controlled. They are not little versions of their parents. Tune into their hearts and their needs.

I thank Nissan for getting our attention. Perhaps they’ve sold many cars through their commercial. They have sold me on the opportunity to encourage dads to parent their sons and daughters well.

Questions to ponder

How aware are you of your personal history?

What generational traits have been passed down to you?

Who are your role models?

How has this post touched you?

 

Risky Behavior and Brain Health

I used to think risky behaviors were . . . well, risky, and dangerous, and unsafe. And they can be.

For teenagers or adolescents, risky behaviors are among the three vices: drugs, sex, and alcohol. In his book Brain Storm, Dr. Dan Siegel helps us understand the natural chemical cocktails and hormonal releases in the brain for those twelve to twenty-four years old. These chemicals are necessary for launching one into adulthood. It can be a dangerous time of life if poor choices and a trail of permanent consequences follow. Perpetual guilt and shame potentially lingers into adulthood stunting the development of one’s natural rhythm of growth.

Risk is not always a dangerous activity to be avoided. The opposite may be true.

For those of us beyond twenty-four with less dopamine (pleasure hormones) releases in the brain, I encourage intentional and healthy risk-taking. It’s good brain hygiene.

Healthy risk-taking is necessary for growth and well-being. Growth sometimes requires doing the opposite of what one would normally do. It may be entering into the unknown, yet not in a sinful way.

Healthy Risk-taking Story

Here’s a story from my pre-adolescent past to illustrate healthy risk-taking.

When I was young my family lived in a subdivision with a community pool. I remember the excitement at the beginning of summer and the smell of chlorine. My bare feet eagerly ran and I heard the whistle of the stern-faced lifeguard pointing and commanding a firm, “walk.” Sugar Daddys were my favorite snack I waited in line for at concessions.

As a fairly good swimmer for my age, the lower diving board was safe . . . and boring after a while. My cousins dared me to go off the high diving board.

I saw how much fun the others were having!

I noticed a boy much smaller than me climbing confidently up the ladder to the high dive and jumping off as if he were born that way.

“I can do that,” I told myself. I intended to make this bold move. My nervous excitement turned into an adrenaline rush that gave me determination.

I started up the first rung . . . then the second. . . the third . . .and by the fourth rung, my whole body shivered with cold, excitement and fear! My heart raced faster with each step I took. I suddenly changed my mind and started to go down backwards. Four or five other divers right behind me shouted an impatient, “hurry up. . . . come on . . . scaredy cat . . . you shouldn’t have gotten in line if you’re not gonna go off.”

My only choice was to keep going.

My heart was beating out of my chest. Goose bumps emerged all over my cold wet body. The rail became more slippery and my legs shook with every step.

Having reached the top rung with my white-knuckled hands grasped tightly to the wet handrail, I felt the grainy board under my feet. A nauseous feeling in my stomach motivated me to keep looking straight ahead. My peripheral vision confirmed how far down the water really was. I walked to the end of the bouncing board and pinched my nose.

My leap of faith was like a slow-motion movie clip.

In an instant, I felt my feet pierce the water surface. Gravity pulled me further under. Emerged by the cool blue water, I quickly swam to the top with a big smile on my face.

I felt proud of myself. I wanted that high dive experience again! I had knowledge I didn’t have moments before. I knew how much fun it would be! I waited in line confidently with the other divers.

  • I learned how to jump backwards off the high dive.
  • I learned how to dive head-first off the high dive.
  • I learned how to flip forward and backward off the high dive.
  • I learned to point my toes and craft my form off the high dive.

The lower diving board became too boring for me.

I experienced feelings of being fully alive and excited! The high dive was fun. I grew in my confidence and skill. My fear turned into courage!

Questions for you

  • What memories of healthy risk-taking behaviors do you have? How has that increased your confidence and skill?
  • What is your low dive experiences now in your life? What is comfortable and boring?
  • What high dive experiences do you imagine in your life now? What confidence and skill might you gain?

One Question to Ask Yourself

 

I make it a point to get away from my daily grind periodically throughout the year. I need it. I thrive on it. I get my batteries recharged by it. It’s necessary for me to rest and gain clarity. I generally don’t ask one question. But the theme, one question to ask yourself showed up for me.

My favorite retreat center Saint Mary’s Sewanee. is about an hour from my home. It’s awesome to experience the breathtaking view and sacredness overlooking the Tennessee hills of the Cumberland Plateau.

My choice to disconnect from e-mail, cell phone notifications, and Google is intentional. With my journal and an open attitude, I pray a simple prayer, “Here I am, Lord, and I’m ready to listen.”

Preparation for one question to ask yourself

I had a set of seven prepared questions to ask myself and God. It was time to evaluate the year since my birthday was coming up soon. This season of my life was different than previous ones. Much drama and intensity filled the year. I needed to make sense of it in order to move on with uncluttered direction.

I prayerfully reflected. I wrote. I was transparent. I took time to answer all my questions. There. . . I did it!  Yet I didn’t get the peace I longed for.

I slept, because that’s what you do on an individual soul-searching retreat. I woke up the next day with more questions on my mind. I assumed the need to apply those same questions to other areas of my life, not just the past year.

Other Questions 

I began the process again, answering those questions from other angles. I noticed my weariness and became anxious.

I asked God why I needed to ask such questions.

  • Am I being overly analytical?
  • Am I trying too hard to let go of the past?
  • Do I need to figure it out?
  • Can’t I just live in the present without worries of the future?

Other “what” and “why” questions popped into my head.  I tried to avoid the “would’a, could’a, should’a” thoughts that lead to regret and frustration.

The Moments

Some might believe an individual retreat with God would be either mentally tormenting or extremely boring. Although I felt occasional mental torment or boredom, I allowed myself to move through those experiences. I didn’t mind soul-wrestling thoughts and feelings. I’ve come to embrace that as part of the process.

Allowing tension-filled moments have been liberating for me. I’ve never regretted taking a three or four day solitude retreat in the past. I’ve always been glad I did. God has met me there many times and I’ve changed along the way.

The Meditation

I needed a break from the soul-searching stuff. I decided to join a small group of women for their weekly yoga class there on the retreat campus. I liked stretching my body into various poses. I was instructed to pay attention to my breathing and balance.

I felt peaceful during the meditation with my eyes closed lying flat on my back taking in deep breaths. I heard the tender voice of the instructor who seemed to join with God to help quiet my internal world. Silence honored. . . relaxation. . . safety. . . attention to my soul and to God’s voice.

After the meditation, I walked outside to spread out my blanket and take in the moment. I entered into the art of God’s creation overlooking miles of stillness from the bluff view. As I soaked in the beauty, one question became clear.

The Question

“If this day were my last, how would I live it right now in this moment?”

I felt divine love attached to this question as if Jesus were saying to me, “Come over here, Judy. I have something to show you.”

I experienced deep acceptance and worthiness from the Holy Spirit in writing out my answers. I felt peace, and joy, and motivation!

My retreat was a process just as my life’s journey was.

How clear each of our lives would be to ponder questions in the context of a spiritual retreat? To intentionally plan time away from the noisy clutter of daily life. . . to move through the anxiety or boredom. What peace awaits us in the silence of our souls?

May you be encouraged with these thoughts:

  • Embrace the questions you have at this stage in your life.
  • Allow the process and ponder. Move through the emotions.
  • It’s OK to make sense of the past. It’s OK to live in the moment.
  • Make space in your life to quiet the noisy clutter of daily responsibilities.
  • Your life deserves meaning. You are worthy. You are deeply loved.

Here’s the one question to ask yourself,

“If this day were my last, how would I live it right now in this moment?”