Reflectionary

UCC Daily Devotional

Breathe

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! – Psalm 150:6a (NIV)

It was a scary “no news is good news” kind of trip to the hospital. My chest pain was not a heart attack—could have been several other things—stress test was fine. “Now we have a baseline.” Sounds good, but all the time I was there, my blood pressure was bananas. Every time I heard the machines wind up, I felt my anxiety rise, too. I had to remind myself to breathe.

I came home with a change in prescription, and I finally started doing what my primary care provider had told me to do a while ago: check my blood pressure every day. Twice a day, actually. I poured over the manual for the monitor. If I had to do this thing, I wanted to do it right. I strategized the best location in my house and read more instructions. Don’t take it as soon as you get out of bed. Check. Move around and start your day, but if you eat breakfast first, you have to wait 30 minutes. (Just like swimming?) Okay.

Above all else, sit quietly for five minutes before you use the machine.

Trying to settle myself in the chair, a timer set, I realized I was holding my breath, dreading the sound the machine would make and the numbers I would see on the screen. Maybe, I thought, I should try breathing. In through the nose, out through the mouth. One breath at a time. My breath became prayer, asking for God’s presence and a sense of calm. I felt my chest rise, and my breath deepen. When the timer went off, I was ready.

Prayer

O God, I have breath, and I will praise you. Thank you. Thank you. Amen.


Written for the United Church of Christ Daily Devotional.

Reflectionary

Hold On

If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my misery. - Psalm 119:92 (NRSV)

This Christmas was the first since I became a mother that I did not see any of my three children in person. As for many this year, we made last-minute changes to plans because of Omicron, and for some in the family, travel was already impossible. We made alternate plans to be together online, knowing that – while we would all prefer to be in the same location – our preferences couldn’t change reality.

For a day after the final conversations took place, I moved under a weighted blanket of sadness. I didn’t have the will to employ my usual approaches to disappointment: reframing, keeping busy, focusing on others. I gave myself the day to mope.

When my wife and I sat down the next morning for our devotional time, we read words of scripture and reflection, but we hesitated to engage our consistent spiritual practice of naming “What’s good” and “What’s bad,” followed by prayer. We built our practice from a familiar benediction that includes the phrase, “Hold on to what is good.” The previous week’s “good” anticipation was today’s “bad,” and that felt terrible.

Yet we met in the place where we always meet, to do what we always do, making space for the feelings of the day, the good and the bad. We let them just be; we didn’t try to solve them. We gave them to God, and we let God hold them with us.

The next day, I ventured this response: “What’s good is that we all love each other, and we are all well.”

I still felt sad, but I felt held.

Prayer

Holy God, hold on to us. Be with us in our sadness, we pray. Amen.


Written for the United Church of Christ Daily Devotional.

Reflectionary

Reflect, Rework, Renew

I’ve never been a huge fan of New Year’s resolutions, since most of them have sounded punitive to me. For the past two years, though, my wife and I have undertaken a modified version of Gretchen Rubin’s practice of yearly commitments. Kathryn first did it in 2019 – a list of 19 things she wanted to do that year. We made our lists (10 individual items and 10 shared items) with good humor and optimism in early 2020, based in intentions like getting out together to the movies more, and developing deeper friendships by inviting people over to dinner. And then COVID-19 hit, and we became our own meme of “how I caused the pandemic.”

As I reflect on my 21 for 2021 list in this last week of the year, I have to confess that I feel disappointed by the things I tried and failed. I planned to make my own sourdough starter, but I failed on multiple attempts. I laid out an ambitious reading list of 21 books I already owned; I read (or started) about half of them. 

(Books I’m still hoping to finish circled. But seriously, it’s the 30th.)

And read 21 minutes a day? I guess I did, if you count newspaper articles on my iPad, but I really had books in mind. I had the idea of knitting a sweater for Kathryn, but due to pandemic restrictions on in-person shopping and a snafu with the yarn dyer, ended up spending too many dollars on the wrong color of yarn. 

As I grumbled to myself about all these things, I took a look at an Instagram post from the originator of the idea and learned that Gretchen Rubin herself did not get to all the things on her list. And as I look back over the year as a whole, I see that I read a lot of books I didn’t even know about when I made a list 12 months ago, and I baked many new things even without a sourdough success. 

Who did I think my list was for, anyway?

At the kitchen table the other day, Kathryn suggested we decide whether some things could be rolled over; the rest can be a page that we tear out of the metaphorical book and move on, she said. It’s good advice, and it grows out of the experience we have all shared over the past 22 months, adjusting to unexpected reality over and over again, reworking plans and then reworking them again.

What really helps our household keep it together are the habits we have developed and the structures we have put in place and maintained. As Rubin writes,

“Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life. If we have habits that are good for us, we’re far more likely to be happier; if we have habits that are bad for us, we’ll find it tougher to be happy.” 

Doing a little knitting daily, writing down how I’m feeling so I’ll know, eating a breakfast that gives me the right kind of fuel, creating space for a daily devotional time with Kathryn, staying on track with work and personal tasks in my modified bullet journal, devising a meal plan for the week (including who is going to cook and when to get takeout), baking something from scratch on Saturdays — these are all habits that make me a better person, a better partner and parent, and a better coach. They are life-altering in the most ordinary ways. I renew my commitment to these, and even when I fail, I will keep coming back to them.

What’s working for you? How will you renew your commitments in 2022?


P.S. A friend sent me some dried sourdough starter, and I’m going to give it another try.