Monday, August 4, 2014

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep: Helpful Habits for Putting Ourselves to Bed

Last night, about a half-hour before I went to bed, I popped onto my lap top, responded to a few emails, and checked Face Book to see who liked a picture on my wall of my adorable grandson. Prior to that, I’d been reading a non-fiction book; a book that was engaging and clicked my brain into gear. And then I went to bed, laid my head on my pillow, and stared up at the ceiling. What I noticed was how alert I felt; how not sleepy, untired and unready for bed I was.

I’ve never struggled a lot with not being able to sleep, though there have been periods of time when I was anxious about something, excited or upset, and found it hard to go to sleep. But as a rule, I’m a good sleeper. Eight hours a night. And I know better than to get involved in things right before bedtime that could wait, need to wait, until a new day when I’m fresh.

As a spiritual director, I hear stories of many who struggle with putting themselves to bed. They don’t sleep well. Have cases of mild to major insomnia. And I imagine they can attribute some of the restlessness to their own bad habits of stirring up their minds and energizing their emotions, just like I did last night. In fact, research suggests that 60 million Americans struggle with insomnia!

I know better. However, when I fail to follow my “know better,” I experience sleeplessness like the other 60 million people in the US. It’s a bad deal. I slog through my day in a fog; my engagement with life sluggish; my response to others impatient; my creativity and mental acuity dulled. And agonizingly, not sleeping can beget not sleeping, which multiplies my anxiety and lack of productivity. It’s a bummer to not sleep.

I’ve read about and tried some things that seem to help me put myself to bed and enter a more conducive state of restfulness that leads to sleep. When I do these things, I not only fall asleep more easily, I sleep more restfully.

Here are few thing I do that seem to help:

·         Clean sheets: I sure don’t change my bed every night, but soft, clean sheets really make going to bed a comforting and cozy experience. Also, taking a warm shower before I climb into my bed with clean sheets makes me feel like I’ve rinsed the day off and am ready to put it behind.

·         A bedtime routine: I go through the same process every night in preparation for bed. Wash my face; brush my teeth; put on my pj’s; put clothes away. When I’m going through the motions, I feel myself looking forward to bed. My body and mind start to anticipate it.

·         15 to 30 minutes of winding down: When I take a short time to unwind before I actually turn the lights off, I’m more likely to fade into a state of sleepiness and I fall asleep more quickly. Sometimes that idle time takes the form of reading a book that is calming. It also includes not doing some things, like watching television, being on my computer or IPad, or reading something that agitates my brain rather than helps it calm down.

·         Evening prayer of examine: This prayer, developed by St. Ignatius, is a time of noting when you felt close to God, were aware of God during your day and when you felt far away. It’s often the case that when I lay in the dark and begin this examine of my day that I will drift off to sleep. My last thoughts are often ones of when I felt God’s presence.

These are a few good habits that help me fall asleep and sleep well so that I can live life with the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual vitality that I desire and that aids my fruitfulness. So, what works for you? What helps you ease into a state of restfulness and deep, peaceful, nourishing sleep? Are you aware of anything that contributes to you not resting well and becoming sleep-starved?  Sleep is such a precious gift and commodity; we’d be wise to do whatever it takes to protect and nurture it.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Spiritual Art of Raising Children with Disabilities: A guest post by Kathleen Deyer Bolduc (make a comment and you might win a copy!)

 A new friend of mine and fellow spiritual director, Kathy Bolduc, has recently written a book called The Spiritual Art of Raising Children with Disabilities. An excerpt is below. As I have read through its pages, I am drawn into a world that I don't know much about personally, but know several friends who do. 

Kathy writes with empathy, wisdom and encouragement as she offers stories and Scripture and provides reflections for parents who are trying to "gather up the broken pieces" and rearrange them in a mosaic that tells their story and searches for God in it. If you have a child with disabilities or know someone who does, read or pass along this book. It will infuse you with hope and teach you about the art of parenting this child.

Make a comment below (by Thursday at 5 pm) and you will have a chance to win a copy of Kathy's book. (A comment will be selected by number through

Applause, everyone. Bravo, bravissimo! Shout God-songs at the top of your lungs!
Psalm 47:1 (The Message)

My son Joel, who has autism, loves to dance. He’s a study in joy on the dance floor—arms flailing, feet shuffling, eyes shining. Joy bubbles up in my veins as I watch him, inviting me to get up and do my own celebratory dance.

I find myself asking, “When was the last time I celebrated? Truly celebrated?”

Celebration brings joy, and joy makes us strong. The prophet Nehemiah reminds us that the joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10). Richard Foster writes, “Celebration is central to all the Spiritual Disciplines. Without a joyful spirit of festivity the Disciplines become dull, death-breathing tools in the hands of modern Pharisees. Every Discipline should be characterized by carefree gaity and a sense of thanksgiving.” (Celebration of Discipline, p. 164)

This past weekend my husband Wally and I were scheduled to help out at the monthly dance held at Joel’s home, Safe Haven Farms. We look forward to these dances. Just watching my son dance is a guarantee of entering into a little piece of heaven on earth. But this particular night, for whatever reason, Joel was agitated and anxious, unable to relax. He walked into the brightly decorated multi-purpose room where music was blaring, took one look around and turned on his heel, running for the door. Dan, his one-on-one staff, followed closely behind.

Within five minutes Joel returned. He refused to sit down for dinner, which had just been served. Out the door he ran, again. I continued dishing up food, watching my son run in and out of the building several times over the course of twenty minutes. Finally, Wally whispered in my ear. “Let’s go.”

We gathered up Joel’s backpack and meds, shepherded him to the car, and headed toward our home, where he was scheduled to spend the night.

Just seven o’clock on a beautiful evening, bedtime was still a couple of hours away. We decided to take a cruise on our new pontoon boat, located just up the road from our house. A visual mantle of relaxation settled over Joel the moment he stepped onto the boat. Putzing around the lake at a leisurely pace, we surprised at least ten great blue herons from their rookery in a tree near the bank. We watched in awe as they took off in flight, lifting into the air with great, measured strokes.

We sang Joel’s favorite praise songs—“This is the Day,” “I Love You, Lord,” and “This Little Light of Mine.” After singing Joel hunkered down in a lawn chair on the front of the boat, peering out from under the bill of his baseball cap, relishing the wind in his face. I felt my body and spirit release all tension as his eyes crinkled up with a face-transforming smile. “Thank you, God,” I whispered.

Toward the end of the ride a flash of silver to the right of the boat caught my eye. I turned to see a bald eagle flying past with a fish in his beak. Wally turned off the boat’s engine, and we sat for several minutes, watching with rapt attention as this majestic bird landed in the top of a tree and devoured his catch, white head bobbing up and down as he tore at his prey.

This evening we celebrated. It wasn’t a special occasion. As a matter of fact, we’d narrowly avoided what could have been a major meltdown. It was a perfectly ordinary Saturday evening in the middle of May. The lake reflected receding storm clouds, water and clouds alike fading to lavender in the slanting rays of the lowering sun. Herons continued winging over our heads with effortless beats of their great, wide wings. A beautiful wake streamed out behind the boat—waves that made Joel particularly happy because Joel has always had a love affair with waves. The three of us praised God, praised creation, praised this time with one another.

“The world is filled with reasons to be downcast. But deeper than sorrow thrums the unbroken pulse of God’s joy, a joy that will yet have its eternal day. To set our heart on this joy reminds us that we can choose how we respond to any particular moment. We can search for God in all circumstances, or not. We can seek the pulse of hope and celebration because it is God’s reality. . . . Every small experience of Jesus with us is a taste of the joy that is to come. We are not alone—and that in itself is reason to celebrate.” (Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices that Transform Us)

Reflection Exercise:

Read Zephaniah 3:17:

The Lord your God is in your midst,
  a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
  he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.

Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Tense and relax any muscles in your body that are holding on to tension. How do you imagine God rejoicing over you with gladness? Can you envision God quieting you with his love? Exulting over you with loud singing? What feelings does this evoke within you? Take a few moments to journal your experience.

Excerpted from The Spiritual Art of Raising Children with Disabilities (Judson Press, 2014)
Used with permission

The mother of a 29-year-old son with autism, Kathleen Bolduc is a spiritual director in Oxford, Ohio, and the author of several books on faith and disability, including The Spiritual Art of Raising Children with Disabilities and Autism & Alleluias. Kathy’s blogs can be found here and at Not Alone

Monday, May 5, 2014

35 Years Ago Today: Little did I know that I was signing up for the adventure of a lifetime!

We stood at the altar, facing one another, our eyes wide open with hope and desire for our future together. And as we look back, 35 years to this day, we both realize how little we knew about each other; about what it would take to be married; and about the adventure that was to ensue.

When I said "I do" to my husband, David, little did I know that I was signing up for the adventure of a lifetime. I didn't know that, through this man, I would be introduced to and develop my greatest loves in life; the love of books and reading, nature, hiking, ideas, all-things-creative, rich conversation, art, music, good wine and food.

I didn't know that our love would procreate and we would give birth, raise and launch into life four beautiful, creative, energetic and compassionate kids--all of whom we are extremely proud and find to this day to be our greatest delight. We certainly had no idea, barely an imagination, for what it would be like to experience becoming parents-in-law and grandparents and being taken hostage by enchanting grandchildren. 

Way back when, with the innocence of young love, I had no idea that I would brave the storms of life with this man.That I would experience his profound and unwavering love and companionship through the loss of our first baby; the loss of both my parents; the loss (for a time) of faith in the church and trust in its leaders; the loss of innocence of life itself.

Little did I know that one day even the honeymoon stage of our marriage would end and we would experience a season of pain, darkness, struggle and misunderstanding. And together, we would wrestle and relentlessly search for one another until we found each other in the darkness; and from there we would rebuild our trust and love and oneness.

And when I said yes to young love; to this brown-eyed young groom who had won my heart forever, I didn't realize what an interesting person I was marrying. I didn't know that I would be invited to walk with him through his many "phases"--as we call them. A phase is when David is totally into something and speaks as though it is his new and forever "thing." And it usually lasts about five weeks or five months. But during that time it comes up in pretty much every conversation he has with just about everyone.

35 years ago today, little did I know that I was signing up for the adventure of a lifetime with the most loving, patient, creative, even-keeled, interesting, curious and supportive man who said "Yes" to me 35 years ago; says "Yes" to me every day; and said "Yes" to me when I had a dream in my heart to move to the city and begin an urban retreat center in an old house in the hood. Our marriage has always been a mutual relationship, yet never have I felt more respected and trusted than when David followed me toward this dream and sunk all we had and all his heart in making it happen.

After 35 years, I can see that we've done a lot of hard work in our marriage and we are experiencing a sweet harvest in the fall of our lives. Yet, most of all, I see 35 years of grace. I see how God has offered so much grace to us who so naively said "Yes" to an adventure we had no idea we were starting. God has been our North Star; our mender of hearts; our humbler and sustain-er and friend. He has been the common ground of our individual being and the quest of our individual lives. He has been the third strand in the cord. And today, 35 years later, we bless God from whom all our blessings over the last 35 years have flowed.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Holy Saturday: Living in the In-Between

 Holy Saturday is a day of darkness and emptiness. A day of waiting--though we don't know what we are waiting for. It's a day when our faith is entombed in uncertainty and we yearn for resurrection. It's the day during Holy Week when Jesus' lifeless body lay buried in a cold tomb and his disciples were left numb, their faith frozen in time, uncertain of what to do next.
Holy Saturday reminds us of a time in our lives when we are transitioning from what we've known to a new knowing--and we are somewhere "in-between." We look behind us and can see where we've been. We look ahead but don’t know exactly where we are going. And we are somewhere in the middle, between “what was” and “what will be.”
            We enter Holy Saturdays through death; through our stale faith expiring and the yearning for a more real experience of God. Sometimes Holy Saturdays will last a short time—maybe a few weeks or months. But there are other times when we feel lost in the dark for several years.The in-between can be filled with uncertainly and upheaval. However, when we wait it out in Holy Saturday—we are often transformed by our journey in the -in-between. And then one day we awake to resurrection Sunday.

(Adapted from The Wide Open Spaces of God, by Beth Booram) 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Maundy Thursday: "Because I am Humble and Gentle in Heart" (Matthew 11:28)

          As Jesus and his disciples gathered in the upper room, the Passover celebration at hand, his mood was heavy, his thoughts preoccupied. Knowing that the time had come for him to live out his most climactic act of love, he meditated on this moment with great thoughtfulness.
          The table, laden with food, was low to the ground with thin cushions surrounding it. Each of the twelve took their spots, Jesus in the place of honor, at the head. John, a tender comfort to Jesus during this time, sat close, sensing his teacher’s sadness.
          The men carried on conversations with one another, subconsciously aware of the heaviness of this unnamed grief, the premonition that they were attending a farewell party and something was about to happen of which they had no control.
          Their upper bodies leaned forward toward the table, their left hand supporting their weight. They ate with their clean hand as they engaged in banter, their legs and sandaled feet extending behind them. Quietly, Jesus slipped back from the table. The eyes of his disciples glanced toward him, observing his quiet movement.
          He began to disrobe, taking off his outer garments and setting them aside. A large towel lay by the table, one that a servant had left behind. He picked it up and wrapped it around his stripped body, mimicking the look of a lowly servant.
           Jesus found a large bowl and poured water into it from a jug. Then he carried the bowl over to the table, stooping low to the ground behind each disciple. Taking on the job of a menial houseboy, one by one, he began to wash each of his disciple’s feet.
          The men felt awkward and uncomfortable. It occurred to some that they had failed to think about this simple act of hospitality—washing feet. Whose responsibility should it have been? Certainly none of theirs. Where was that servant who had prepared the food and thoughtlessly overlooked this courtesy? Their faces reddened with shame and embarrassment, as they submitted to Jesus’ act of humiliating himself.
          They were silent, all except Peter. He never could use self-restraint when it came to questioning what Jesus was doing. With indignation, Peter protested, saying to him, “Are you really going to wash my feet?” Jesus insisted, responding to Peter, “Unless I wash your feet, you won’t be able to share with me in this fellowship of servant hood.”
          Stunned and humbled, Peter consented, begging to be washed from head to toe. 
Clothed in Humility
          When Jesus shared in this meal with his disciples, he wanted it to be memorable—a teachable moment. His act of washing their feet was a foreshadowing of what was to come. Jesus, knowing that his earthly ministry was almost over, faced his final act of humiliation. He would submit himself to death on a Roman cross.
He chose to teach his disciples through this pericope—this smaller story germinating in the larger story of God’s redemption—an unforgettable lesson about servant leadership.
The first thing Jesus did was take off his priestly robes, lay them aside, and put on the stole of a servant. Imagine being at a private dinner party and the guest of honor taking off their dress clothes and putting on an apron in order to bus the tables. Something about that act would seem inappropriate, out of place, and objectionable. That’s how it must have felt to the disciples, as they watched their Lord put on the garments of a slave and perform an unbecoming task.
Humble people are like that. They don’t mind taking on a lower standing than what life could afford them. Unpretentious people don’t mind doing the chores that no body wants to do. Their joy isn’t in being lifted up, but in lowering themselves in order to serve others.

The Posture of the Humble
          Jesus knelt, as he made his way around the table behind each of his disciples, washing and wiping their feet. His posture reflected the essence of humility, the idea of leveling oneself to the stature of those with whom you are relating.
          In this society, only the lowliest of servants would engage in such an undignified job. Even peers would not offer that act of service to one another. The disciples could hardly imagine washing one another’s feet, let alone allowing Jesus, their teacher, to wash theirs.
          After Jesus was finished, he asked them if they understood why he did what he did. He brought up the fact that they referred to him as “Teacher and Lord” and, he affirmed, rightfully so. Jesus explained that his act of washing their feet took nothing away from his authority and personhood as their teacher and Lord. Instead, he served out of the fullness of his personhood, and now admonished them to do the same.  
          Humble people don’t cling to their titles as proof of their value or worth. They don’t have to include their credentials with their signature, or mention them in order to remind others of their importance. People who possess true meekness throw off those designations while freely and willingly stooping to love, serve, and honor others. And, in so doing, they lose nothing of their own self worth.

Humble to the Nth Degree
          It was a common courtesy in Middle Eastern culture for servants to provide jugs of water and basins for foot washing. The roads in Palestine were dusty and coated their sandaled feet. Though people would wash their bodies early in the day, their feet became dirty from walking wherever they needed to go.  
          However, not all servants would have actually done the washing of feet, but simply provided the resources for individuals to do their own washing. Only the lowliest class of servants would have performed the act of foot washing.
          Jesus astounded his disciples when he modeled humility to the nth degree by performing this debasing act. He drew no line in terms of how far he would go to serve. No act was too humiliating or beneath him.
          Only the truly self-effacing volunteer to clean toilets, pick up garbage, change dirty diapers and care for the sick and dying—all those jobs that involve sights and smells that are repulsive. Humble people’s senses are insulted, just the same, but they don’t let that override their impulse to act out of the meekness in their heart. 

Humility is No Respecter of Persons
          Gathered around the table were Jesus’ closest male companions. He had other disciples, women and men, who traveled with him and participated in his ministry. But these were the men that he had specifically chosen to carry on when he was gone.
          John was seated on one side of him; Peter close by. And somewhere in the mix was Judas. John, who told this narrative in his gospel, mentioned that the Judas had already made plans in his heart to betray Jesus.
          As Jesus made his way around the table, he was cognizant of what was in Judas’ heart. In fact, after he had finished washing all their feet, including Judas’, Jesus became deeply troubled and emotional, asserting, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me!’” (John 13:21)
          Can you imagine washing the feet of someone whom you knew was about to betray you and have you killed? The truly humble don’t sift through the crowd, choosing the ones they will serve and the ones they won’t. Humble people serve their enemies. Harder yet, humble people serve those who pretend to be their friends. 

           Today is Maundy Thursday, "maundy" meaning command and referring to the new command Jesus gave to all his disciples to love one another as he loved. May we pause today and allow Jesus to wash our feet--to wash all of us; and may we humble ourselves and wash the feet of those whom God has called us to love--including our enemies.
Excerpt taken from Picturing the Face of Jesus (Abingdon Press), by Beth Booram.