August 7, 2013

take a deep breath

original post here, reposted because today I needed it.

I have stated before, as a professional, that sometimes people need help that isn't. So it should come as no surprise to you that one of my very favorite therapeutic techniques is not something I learned in school, but rather something my mom taught me when I was just a wee tot.

And that, my friends, is to take a deep breath.

Often I will sit with a client who is upset and I will stop the proverbial presses until they agree take deep breaths with me. They'll refuse, or say they can't, and much like my mother did with me when I would fall into hysterics on the reg, I wait. I take deep breaths and wait for them to join me. And before we know it, like magic, they're breathing. It always works. For the moment at least, panic has passed, all thanks to a simple deep breath. It's very effective. I highly recommend it.

I know it's effectiveness from experience because when I stress, I don't breathe. Literally. It's as if I believe things are so fragile that even the tiniest gust from within me could bring it all crashing down. If I can just hold it in another second, I think, I will still be in control. In my scariest and most fragile moments I will often find myself physically struggling for air. Trying desperately, pitifully to remain in control; and unsure of the last time I allowed myself a breath.

Once not long ago, during a particularly frantic time in my life, I had a serious not-breathing moment while I was at church. In an attempt to not make a scene, I tracked down a friend I knew would be able to handle me, and she helped me calm down. She [recognizing that I wasn't] told me to breathe, and I did a little - just enough so I could go back and work at the food bank like I was supposed to. I took a deep breath and held it, so as to regain control, confirm my composure, and try to keep the whole thing from crashing down again. At least for another hour.

Almost immediately when I walked into the other room, this darling little nugget of a girl ran to greet me. I scooped her up, and as she sometimes does when I don't see her for a while, she began to reminisce on our relationship. I like this about her. It's like she remembers she loves me, but a few weeks have passed, so she has to remind herself why. I like it because she's cute and it's fun to listen to her process, but also because as the list of memories she is compiling gets longer, her hugs get tighter and her face gets brighter and it's just about the best and most affirming gift a person could ever get.
As she played with my necklace, she recounted the Valentine she made for me, the craft box I gave her and what she made with the stuff inside it, her birthday party, when she had dinner at my house that one time. And then, as if she'd just uncovered the best treasure she could imagine, she pointed to the exact spot on the couch where once, many months ago, she had sobbed, and where together we had taken deep breaths. She said as she pointed, you taught me how to exhale! It caught me a little off guard but I said yes, that was me, and she threw her arms around my neck. Thank you for teaching me, she said in a tiny voice. Now I can do it even when you're not there.

I don't want to get caught up in semantics, but I feel confident I never used the word exhale with a 5 year old. That was her word. And in that moment, holding all my breath in, her word made all the difference. It was like something in Violet's tender little soul knew there was something I'd forgotten, something she needed to teach me right back.

So I exhaled. It took about the rest of the day to do it, but I did. I took a deep breath, exhaled, took another. That night I thought, when I wake up in the morning, I'll do it again. And again after that. I've been breathing ever since, in fact.

Things may be fragile, but in my experience, holding one's breath isn't a very effective method of control. Because, you see, we are humans who require air. And I am so thankful, so very desperately grateful, for people who remind me to breathe. Who give me permission to to quit holding it in, to breathe all over them, and can handle it when I do. Who will sit with me, patiently, presses proverbially stopped, until I agree to exhale.

Because sometimes? Sometimes it's all you can do. Take a deep breath. Then take another.

August 1, 2013

on what it's like to miss Jesus

I'm an extrovert. Have been since the beginning of this life, as I know it. I've told this story before, I know, but when approaching the playground in my new neighborhood at around age 3, I am said to have exclaimed, "Look at all those kids! They're going to be so happy to meet me!" So I mean, it just kind of is what it is.

As such, I've always been the type of person who has maintained a solid array of friendships at any given time. Sure, as I've gotten older and somewhat removed, at least by distance, those relationships have changed and altered somewhat, but I've always been sort of an overachiever about it. And I try. I really do. I work so hard to not get flakey, and believe you-me, it's easy for me to veer in that direction. With what I like to think are really, really good intentions, it is a regular occurrence for me to over-commit, double-book, and end up not getting everywhere I want, when I want.

Another trick about being me is I'm not terribly organized. I rely heavily on myself to write down anything and everything that needs to be remembered in a place I can trust I will think to look again. I can be a little oblivious about the details, as it were. This means when it comes to maintaining this level of social activity, I have had to learn the importance of nailing down hard dates and times, and to have a calendar to write it down in immediately as the plan is made. If I leave an interaction with "oh yeah we should definitely hang out sometime!" or "we'll be in touch!" it's not that I don't want to see you, it's not that I don't value who you are, but there's a good to very good chance we definitely won't hang out or be in touch in any kind of timely fashion. (To be fair, I have lots of friends who are better at this than me, and for them I am eternally grateful. I also have a lot of other ENFP pals, though, so basically our lasting friendships are doubly impressive.)

In church a while back, in a discussion about prayer, my pastor suggested scheduling time for it. He detailed for us his prayer "schedule" - the times during the day he sets aside to pray, and he compared it to maintaining healthy relationships. He made a comparison I related to easily, as it is basically exactly what I just said to you about keeping up with people I care about. Essentially, if not a little dramatically, I have to force myself be organized in order to keep my relationships alive. But I have a harder time with that when it comes to my prayer life, and, by extension, my relationship with Jesus. It's always seemed to me that loving Jesus should automatically override all of my natural inclinations (ha!) - that having to schedule or pencil in God had to be on a list of "don'ts" somewhere. I mean, right?

So to back up a tick, it's not that if we don't have a scheduled plan I won't ever see you again - because eventually, I'll miss you. And maybe I should be embarrassed to say this - but I realized last night I miss Jesus. In just the same way I miss my friends when I begin to feel disconnected from them during the summer when we're all gone and busy and our schedules are all screwy. It's not that I believe God's been vacationing on opposite weekends amidst my busy summer schedule. It's that I've failed to make the time and effort and calendar-solid plans I know are necessary to properly engage in the level of relationship I want.

I often joke that invitations are my love language, but it's a little bit true. One of the ways that I feel the best loved, the most cared for, is in pursuit. I love to be invited. I love to be pursued for my time and my company and I try (really) to pursue people I love in similar ways. I haven't been doing a great job of pursuing time with Jesus. It's always been hard for me to conceptualize that Jesus is pursuing me, always. And if we're being honest, as a result, sometimes I can be a real flake about it.

I was feeling lonely. And worried. And anxious. I felt sad, a little, and I wasn't even very sure why. Which is when I realized what (who) I was missing. I realized, sort of abruptly, that I was longing for an invitation. Even more abruptly I realized it was one that was already being extended to me.

As I write this, and ok as I cry a fair amount about it because hellooo I am the queen of emotions, I can't even decide what example I want to use for this concept of a standing invitation, simply because there are so many. But probably because I was reading some Jon Acuff today, I am stuck on the parable of the lost son. I am stuck on the image of a father who, while his son is still a long way off, sees him and is filled with compassion for him, runs to him, throws his arm around him, kisses him.

The father throws a full-on freaking party, in fact. All because his kid who was gone (frankly, because he was being a big flakey loser) has accepted what was, quite apparently, an open invitation to come home.

Yes please.