Monday, September 28, 2009

Spiritual Asthma

I’ve heard that ancient Christians called prayer the breathing of the soul.

I love this thought. There’s so much to ponder about air and breathing.

  • Air nourishes our blood, enabling us to function properly.

  • We were made to breathe automatically and unconsciously.

  • Taking a deep breath, calms, focuses and empowers us.

  • The lack of sufficient air can lead to lethargy, drowsiness or headaches.

  • The complete lack of air can lead to brain damage or death.

It’s easy to see how prayer is indeed the breathing of the soul. I know this cognitively and even experientially. But I also know there are times my soul experiences shortness of breath and gasps for air. The problem is not so much around the issues that send me to my knees; my prayers are pretty strong then. It is the little stresses of life that can take my breath away.

Recently, I saw a DVD entitled “The Widow and the Judge.” It’s one of the Modern Parables series, based on the story found in Luke 18:1-8 about prayer. The filmmaker did an excellent job staying true to the parable, but one thing that specifically struck me was a prop he used. In the drama, he depicted the widow as being asthmatic. Whenever she felt stress, she would experience labored breathing and need her inhaler.

Now I’m not an asthmatic, and I can’t even imagine what it must be like to have breathing restrictions. It feels scary just thinking about it. But those who have asthma have learned what to do to manage that reality. They know their very lives depend on restoring proper breathing as quickly as possible.

I’ve been thinking about this all week.

During the commentary on the DVD, the pastor noted that prayer is such a private and intimate thing, we can’t see it in others, but we can see the evidence when it’s lacking. He said we see its lack when fear sets in, worry, anxiety, frustration…

These are all words I’m well-acquainted with. In fact, his point hit a sore spot, for these are the very times I can find it hard to pray.

What’s more, thinking about the widow, it occurred to me that in those moments, I’m having a spiritual asthma attack. In other words, I need to proactively restore proper breathing and open the channel to my soul so prayer can flow freely without restriction, as soon as possible.

Just as an asthmatic automatically recognizes symptoms and reaches for an inhaler. I, too, want to recognize when I’m beginning to suffocate my soul with worry, anxiety, or frustration. I’m so accustomed to these symptoms that I have a tendency to wait too long before taking action. But waiting can have drastic consequences to my spiritual health (not to mention my emotional or physical health!)

As I thought about this idea this week, I surmised that learning to recognize and respond to the symptoms sooner would invariably make a huge difference in my soul, and was this ever true.

My personal “inhalers” vary: recalling a scripture passage, singing a praise song, and dispelling thoughts of fear by remembering God’s faithfulness have all served to reduce the negative flare ups that so frequently restrict my prayers. The key has been addressing the symptoms sooner than later.

Like any new habit, I will need to keep working on this. Old habits don’t leave without a fight. But I already see a change in my soul’s breathing pattern. God and I have been able to maintain a much more free-flowing dialogue, and his breath has strengthened my soul.

Psalms 23:3a

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Fly Like an Eagle

I guess every epiphany brings a flash of insight and understanding, but some spin you around and set you down in a new direction. That’s what happened to me recently.

My second son and I were on our annual retreat. It’s been a mother-son tradition ever since the FOURCE was young that they had individual time with me. Back then I would take them to breakfast, but as the years have passed the tradition has evolved into an annual (or mini-quarterly) experience, revolving around a point of connection we share.

For the last four or five years, Troy and I have had a “business retreat”. Initially, it was to support our new enterprises. He had started a childcare event agency, and I was doing construction. We’d discuss marketing, client care, finances, program and employee development, and stuff like that.

In recent years, ministry development has become a key component because we both have leadership roles in our churches. We are often up late sharing ideas, brainstorming, and clarifying where we feel God is leading us in ministry and business. And, we always include some fun like hiking or seeing a movie.

Our retreats, while always enjoyable and beneficial, had become a bit predictable. Which is why this past August, I was totally unprepared for what happened.

I guess it began when I told Troy I had been praying about returning to school. I shared that while I loved what I was doing; I felt there was something more. I explained that I wanted to “soar like an eagle,” and actually felt I was capable, but something was holding me back. The more I talked the more the metaphor came pouring out until finally I said, “I feel like an eagle caught in a trade wind!”

Troy was quiet for a long moment, and then he said something that rocks me to this day.

He said, “It seems to me, if you feel stuck in a trade wind, you aren’t flying high enough.”
I still get chills thinking about that statement! He said it so matter-of-factly; I truly believe he was just thinking aloud. I don’t even think he thought it was profound, and perhaps you don’t either. But to me, it rang so true, that I was literally stunned for a moment.

This sparked my preoccupation with a question I’ve had ever since: What does it mean to fly higher?

So far, I’ve been reflecting on the times I do feel I’m flying. I may not be soaring as high as I’d like, but it’s high enough to know the freedom, joy and peace of a life in flight. I’ve identified three optimum flying conditions to date.

1. When I’m replenishing my soul. Spending time with God and getting to know him better;
enjoying the beauty of his creation, especially nature, art, and music; and bonding with my family, all lift my Spirit on eagle’s wings.

2. When I’m doing what I feel God has made me to do. Teaching, writing, learning new things, or organizing a vision into a plan, especially one that relates to helping people grow personally or spiritually is pure exhilaration! Not always easy, but exhilarating just the same.

3. When I’ve taken a risk outside of my comfort zone, trusting God was with me. Now this one is tricky because I can have so much anxiety traveling outside my comfort zone that I almost get ill. And risk-taking doesn’t always turn out the way I planned. Still, on those occasions when “I’ve done it,” and see how God has worked with me and through me, even in “failure”-- those are definitely ascension moments.

So now I’m on a mission to find opportunities to stretch my wings. I want to live the adventure God has placed in my heart, take more risks, and experience the delight of flight. For I truly believe that Troy’s words resonated so deeply because this is what God desires for me, as well. And what’s more, I’m starting to realize that the only real trade wind holding me back… is me.

Isaiah 40:31


So what about you? When do you feel like you're flying?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Master Plans

By all practical appearances, today started like any other day. A fluttering of eyelids and blurred vision from absent glasses; the complaints of muscles not too happy about being disturbed from slumber, and the distant sound of a train heralding the morning commute.

Just like any other day, except...

"Happy Birthday, Honey!" My husband murmurs, turning over and kissing me.

Today marks the last birthday I can claim as 40-something. Not calculating for the exact time I was born and leap years and such, I’m 8,760 hours, 365 days, and 52 weeks away from turning the big 5-0.

Turning 50 isn’t particularly scary or off-putting for me. Just… sobering. It’s sobering to note how quickly 50 years have passed, which means the next 50 will flash like lightning.

Even though choices I’ve made set the direction and became the blueprints of my life, each choice also led to new directions, obstacles and surprises that I never could have predicted.

For example, 25 years ago I never would have envisioned that my first born son, who would have been one year old at the time, would later be joined by three brothers, who in their adolescent years would name themselves The FOURCE. (I wanted four children, but the gender mix was never what I had in mind.) And yet, words cannot convey the joy and love my sons, now men, have brought into my life. I’m continually amazed by who they have become and are becoming, and count them among my dearest friends.

Twenty years ago I never would have imagined that I would become a Head of School. At the time I was completing a Masters in Education, with the plan of becoming a curriculum and children’s literature writer. While these two aspirations actually came to fruition, I never suspected my pursuits in education and gifts in administration would synthesize into a 15-year career as a school administrator.

Fifteen years ago I never would have predicated that my first husband and I were headed for trouble. I didn’t see it coming, although I should have. Divorces don’t just happen. But a split after 18 years of marriage was never in my original life plan.

And, 10 years ago I never would have guessed that I would be running a residential remodeling construction company, with my second husband. In fact, I would have laughed out loud at any fortune teller who saw this in her crystal ball. And yet – here I am: a five-year business owner. Enjoying it and relatively successful at it. Who would have thought?

But are these benchmarks, highs and lows the totality of my 49 years? They are the foundation and framing by which my life has been built upon to date, but what about the quality of the infrastructure? Am I in balance and in touch with the real me? Am I living out my purpose? Have I learned anything that can be shared as an encouragement to others?

There is one thing I know for sure. That is, while I have followed my dreams, faced complications and generally found my way in life, I’ve also come to recognize the work of a Master Architect/Builder overseeing this project called Tammy. From the beginning, He’s been putting things together in ways I never could have, with a vision of beauty I’m only just beginning to see.

So what’s next?

That’s what this blog will be about. As 50 moves from distant marker to in-my-face signpost, this will be a year of looking back, living in the moment, and launching ahead to align myself with the Master Plan. Because if there’s nothing else my 49 years have taught me, it’s that I’m A Woman Under Construction and God is not through with me yet!

I invite you to walk this year with me. As I reflect, I would hope that you would do so as well, and join me in uncovering the realities and truths that will resonate with anyone who is Under Construction, and seeking to live out master plans by becoming all God intends for them to become.

Jeremiah 29:11