Living with Spaciousness

On Sunday's "On Being" radio program, I heard an interview with the poet Naomi Shihab Nye.  At one point she spoke about living with spaciousness- giving yourself time to exist in this world. 

I loved the image and the permission:  to have the opportunity to create space in all that we do, to allow ourselves room to breathe- physically, emotionally, spiritually.  

Spaciousness.  To me it connotes wide expanses and openness.  I think the idea of vastness is part of our psyche or at least the American psyche.  We think of the wide open plains, the expanse of oceans or great lakes or the scale of our sky scrapers.  I think it also connotes possibility like a large blank canvas. 

I think the poet's words spoke to me because at this juncture in our lives, we are in the middle of redoing our basement.  For anyone who has ever been in the middle of a home project you know all about disruption, feeling claustrophobic with clutter and chaos that these projects create. At present all the items in our basement are currently housed in our first and second floor rooms.  I am certainly not feeling any spaciousness in our home lately.  

So, I find it incredibly appealing to think of the idea of creating and living with spaciousness both in the external, our residence and in the internal of our lifestyle choices.  I definitely see the advantage in the external.  I cannot wait to get my household back in order, straightened and de-cluttered. To have room to move around, to set out new projects, and to not be burdened by confining spaces is my wish. 

I am equally wishful for a lifestyle that gives me room to move around, to engage in new projects or ideas and to not be burdened by confining habits.  As an example of living with spaciousness the poet suggested the simple practice of arriving to an appointment a couple minutes early.  It will give you some time to settle before you move from one task to another.  You have time to observe your surroundings, take a breath and create a buffer between events.

In some ways I liken it creating petite sabbaths- time when my norm is paused for a brief time and I can reflect.  Generally I find my norm is hustling from one activity into another. When I give myself these petite pauses, I create time to be:  time to take a  deep breath, say a prayer, speak to a stranger, notice my surroundings. 

Building in time for pausing will mean that something in my schedule will have to be eliminated. It makes me vulnerable and open to the possibility that I may not accomplish that which I want or at least in my time frame.  It has taken me a long time to realize that true Sabbath keeping is not accomplishing seven days of work in six days.  It is not rushing around for those six days so that when you rest on the seventh, you are "caught" up.   

True Sabbath keeping is allowing time for God, for accomplishing things not in our normal routine and giving that time over to God for whatever He desires for us. It is knowing that while we might not have everything done in those six days, we give over that seventh day to Him regardless.  

I think living with spaciousness is Sabbath keeping on a smaller scale.  We are pausing in our lives, creating margin so that before we run into our house after work, we have time to listen to the neighbor talk about his kids, or plan to take a full lunch break in order to hear the co-worker's anxiety over her mother-in-law's health, or pause before running on the trail and sit and ponder the surrounding beauty of nature.  

Just like I need space and order in my physical living space, I need margin in my emotional and spiritual life.  I need to guard that I am not jam-packed, minute by minute in my schedule. I need to leave open space for the possibilities of whatever might occur. I need to offer back my schedule and its margins to God as gratitude for what the margins create in my life: an order, a spaciousness, an opportunity, a blessing of enjoyment of all aspects of life.  

What about you?  Do you live with spaciousness?  In your physical world?  Your emotional or spiritual world? Do you have margins in your life?  Time that isn't taken with activities?  Time to just be? What would that look like for you?  Can you create petite Sabbaths in your day?  Your week? 


Today is Thanksgiving.  Boy, am I grateful that Abraham Lincoln declared it a national holiday.  For if he didn't, I wonder if I would ever be thankful?  I would forget about doing it annually much less practicing it on a daily basis. 

This week I heard that the community of Sutherland Springs, Texas was having a Thanksgiving dinner- "Feast of Sharing".  The free meal was originally an event to get to know one's neighbors but this year it has become an opportunity for healing.  What a witness to being thankful even in the midst of incredible grief. 

Being thankful doesn't necessarily mean everything is sweetness and light.  It doesn't look like a Hollywood movie. One can be thankful in the midst of deep hurt, grief, pain and adversity. There can still be hope in the middle of a pit.

The other day I heard someone talk about the difference between condemnation and conviction.

Condemnation is evil and creates absolutes in our thinking. Things are seen in terms of the superlatives always or never.   We think of ourselves as always worthless or that our situation will never get better.  We get stuck in that place where there is no point in trying.  Condemnation pulls us down and keeps us down with no hope of getting up.  

Not only is condemnation hurtful to ourselves but it is hurtful to others.  There is a dismissal towards those who feel condemned or we feel should be condemned.  "You are not worthwhile."    Life becomes isolating for both the condemned and the accuser. There is no community.  There is no opportunity for things to get better. 

Confrontation is loving.  It says even if what has happened through our choices or through our situations may not be good, it is not the final word. Confrontation says that this might be bad but it can get better. What has happened doesn't need to define us.  There is hope for a future.  There is hope for change.  There is hope that this doesn't have to be.

Confrontation is loving to others.  It says, you are worthwhile.  You are worth the investment to help with the change. Even though there might be correction and help it is done with care in mind. "I care for you so I will lovingly help in making things better." 

I am grateful for this Thanksgiving.  I am grateful that even if I feel troubled in a situation, I have hope that things can get better.  Click here to read my nephew's inspirational Thanksgiving message.

What about you?  Where do you find yourself this Thanksgiving?  Do you feel condemned or confronted in a situation or problem?  How can you think about it in a way that gives you hope?  


Smoked Kippers

Last week I had surgery and have been recovering.  I don't like to wish my life away but if I could fast forward these two weeks of post-op pain, I would.  Short of that, I have been trying to make the best of it.  I have found a wonderful distraction on Netflix- Escape to the Country.  The show involves showing three various types of homes to a couple or family who have decided to give up their English city/suburban life for a country/village one.  I love seeing the homes that have been picked but mostly, love the filming of the different counties in England.  Each show will highlight some particular feature of a specific region. 

On one of the shows, they were featuring the Northumberland coast and were interviewing the family who makes smoked kippers- the quintessential full fry-up English breakfast item. The family claims that they "discovered" them and it was only through a tragedy.   As the story goes, the fish were drying in the wood shed along the dock.  A fire occurred overnight.  By morning they wondered if anything could be salvaged, especially the fish.  The flavor of the smoked herring was acceptable and thus an industry was born.

I love stories where there is a silver lining in a seemingly disastrous event.  I wonder how many disasters that we as a society have gone through only to have missed the opportunities to see potential or possibilities because we focused on the loss?  I wonder too how many disasters that I may have experienced  and have missed or chosen to miss the opportunities to see potential, possibilities or change in my own life? 

It must've been devastating on that morning in the village of Seahouse to see one's whole catch of fish, in essence, one's whole livelihood literally up in smoke.  Where do you start with that type of disaster?  How do you go through the rubble and even begin to see possibility?

Disaster and tragedy are part of the ongoing human condition.  Look to the events in the last couple of weeks.  What do you do when your house has been completely flooded and there are no salvageable parts?  Is there any opportunity in a madman shooter or rental truck terrorist?

Yet I think many of us feel that we are going through disaster and tragedy when the perspective might show otherwise. 

I am even thinking of the "disaster" of this post op recovery.  Certainly it has been problematic and quite painful but it has given me time to be still.  I am not allowed to drive, lift, or strain in any way..  And so I lie down, sit and try to get comfortable in my stillness.  But I am grateful for the pain because that means that I have functioning nerve cells. I am grateful for healing medicine and I am grateful for this respite time.

Not to sound trite or offer platitudes but I really do think the beginning of finding possibility starts with gratitude:  gratitude that one is alive, gratitude that one can make choices and decisions, gratitude that one is not going through the difficulty alone.  Gratitude does give us a new lens on the same situation.  It is through that lens that we can begin to see a different angle of our predicament. Perhaps to germinate the seed of opportunity or a growth of possibility. 

At the same time as my surgery our family has been witness to the medical trials of a grand-niece baby. There have been moments of great concern about her health and her life.  It was in those times that I could pray, pretty much without ceasing because I did not have any other distractions.  Now I am not saying that my prayers were the things that healed this baby but the silver lining of my surgery was that I was able to have the opportunity to be like the persistent widow in Jesus story and continually lift up my family member to God.  I was able to practice continual prayers and was able to add my voice to many others. 

The prayers gave me purpose and focus during my pain. It gave me perspective over what I had to endure. In the big scheme of things, my "disaster" is nothing.  While I was soldiering through the pain, I kept telling myself that this too would end. I had perspective when I thought of those who had truly suffered before me- slaves, prisoners of war, homeless people and was grateful that my experience was temporary. 

I realized that the experience of gratitude helped me to foster endurance. I am hoping that the experience of learning to endure will aid me in future situations; if I remember how I endured in the past I can be resilient to problems in the future.  

What about you?  Have you gone through pain and suffering?  What got you through?  Has there been any opportunity in it? Even one iota?  How did you discover that?  In the found rubble, could you discover smoked kippers? 



How To Give Thanks

Do you feel thankful this holiday?   I am feeling conflicted this season.  In the big scheme of things I am quite thankful- for my faith, my family, my health and all the material blessings I have. Yet in the microcosm of my life, I am not too grateful.  I find myself grumbling, complaining and disappointed that my life is in the pattern it is.

I realize that I need an attitude adjustment.  I need to learn contentment and gratitude. I need to learn how to give thanks.

I was doing my daily Bible reading and came across these  verses from the book of Hebrews 13:5, "Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." 

It dawned on me.  Perhaps I am not overly pursuing a life that reflects a love of money (or at least not intentionally)  but I am most certainly trying to manipulate my future to go my way and when it doesn't, I find that I get annoyed and cranky.  Part of the sin of loving money is that in its pursuit we forget that we are not in control. I wasn't leaning on God and trusting Him with my thoughts, dreams and plans.  I was allowing my focus to be on the smallness of my life and all the "slights" against me causing me to try and handle it all myself like the Little Red Hen.  I was idolizing me. 

I came across an article in the November issue of "Real Simple".  It was suggesting how to be grateful (when you really don't feel like it).  I liked the ideas because cultivating gratitude lifts our thoughts from ourselves and can help shift our attitude to being thankful and grateful for our circumstances.  It is then we can recognize contentment in whatever that situation might be. Below are some of those suggestions as well as my own: 

  • Gratitude can be simple and subtle. In Hebrew the term for gratitude is hakarat hatov, which means "recognizing the good". A reframing of our attitude might be to "reorient ourselves around things that we should already be grateful for".  So, it might not be so hard to "find" gratitude rather look for the small things which already occur- e.g. a garaged car that keeps the windshield free from frost and the daily morning scraping that non garaged car neighbors have to endure.
  • List your blessings.  Focus on the big four- food, family, health and shelter. If you have to break them down to the smallest item, e.g.  breathing without oxygen assistance,  then do so.
  • Cultivate a grateful eye.  I was raking the leaves in our yard the other day.  There is a neighbor's tree that drops the smallest sliver of leaves possible onto our front yard.  The tines of the rake cannot pick them up.  The only way to collect them  is to use a gasoline powered mower.  In the back of our house there is a HUGE sycamore tree on the adjacent county property.  Not only is the tree big and drops limbs but the leaves are the size of dinner plates.  As I was picking up the sycamore leaves I thought, "I am so grateful that the small tree is in front and the larger one is back here" as I had to pick up by hand the large sycamore leaves as they had fallen over the pebble walkway around our potting shed and pond.  If I used a rake or any other type of machinery I would also denude the path of pebbles. 
  • Look at the way you say thank-you.  Is it automatic or can you look at the way someone is helping you with a cost-benefit eye?  Notice not just the money spent but the time and effort and energy it took.  "Thinking about everyday kindnesses like that will make you way more grateful." 
  • Share  your thanksgiving/gratitude stories with others.  Here are some conversation starters for the Thanksgiving table:
    • What's the nicest thing that anyone has done for you this year?
    • What the nicest thing that you've seen someone else-friend, coach, family member, teacher- do for another person?
    • If you  had one super power that you could use to make a difference int he world, what would it be?  What would you do with it?
    • What are you most grateful for that doesn't cost money?

What about you?  How's your attitude this Thanksgiving holiday?  Do you need an attitude adjustment?  What can you do?  Have you ever counted your blessings?  Actually written them down as assets?   Have you ever shared your feelings of gratitude with others?