Making the Most of Meditation

I am pretty sure these days that I am not as busy as you are. Make sure you read that right. You are working more hours than you probably want to and facing decisions in your life you would rather not be facing. This is something I face, it seems, on a daily basis, but still it isn't what you are likely facing.

My shift from full-time employment to disability was a hard decision to make but a needed one. The difficulty I find is the different laws at work. There are two that I think apply most readily in my life and likely, I suspect, in yours:

1. Newton's first law of motion (sometimes called the law of inertia): It states, most simply, that an object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion. This is a bit tongue-in-cheek as Newton was not thinking of human existence but physics. Still, we are people in constant motion. The workaholic approach of western culture is also one of those "products" we have unwittingly been exporting around the world.

We fear rest. We are afraid even to rest. I think Twenty One Pilots' song, "Car Radio" presents what is now, an almost paralyzing fear people now have with silence.

We cannot stand it. We have to have noise, music, TV, white noise, you name it.  Even in church worship services we struggle and are even uncomfortable with the sound of silence. We must move. We must make noise. We must never slow down.

2.Parkinson's law is of an entirely different sort. The Economist published an article in 1955 on this law stating: "It is a commonplace observation that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion." (, 11/19/55. Accessed 1/11/17). In other words, whatever time we have available, we will fill it. The difficulty is what we choose to fill it with.

We get frustrated at ourselves when we look back and see a day "wasted" on binge watching our favorite show on Netflix. We get disgusted finding we spent 2 hours on Instagram looking at memes. And, then, when we go on vacation, we feel we MUST take our work with us.

"A recent poll conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health finds about half of Americans who work 50-plus hours a week say they don't take all or most of the vacation they've earned. And among respondents who actually take vacations, "30 percent say they do a significant amount of work while on vacation." (Neighmond, Patti. 7/12/16. Accessed 1/11/17).

I know this because of lived this more than once. The most difficult period of dealing with it was my time as a church planter. I have not posted much on this but suffice to say, I did a good job of nearly ruining our family.  Religion and clergy are just as susceptible to the effects of being unhealthy as the rest of humanity. And this is the point:

We are ALL human.

And it is time to admit our knowledge of ourselves and our world is too limited and we are too busy.

Enter meditation. And shut up for just a moment too.

Meditation IS NOT a one size fits all, climb to the top of a mountain in India, and sit "criss-cross-apple-sauce" in a toga with some old guru.  So just stop it.

So you are aware, the concept and practice of meditation is a significant part of the spiritual practices of Judeo-Christian Scripture and teaching, even if it has been ignored. Just for the record, there are other verses but Psalm 119:15 offers us these words: "I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways." Just because a word or concept is shared among differing religions, does not mean it is the same. I have read teachers dismiss meditation as being a false practice. However, I have not heard or read any dismiss fasting as a spiritual practice and Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and many other religions teach fasting (I have links but really prefer not to attract trolls. I really DON'T have time to feed THEM).

What we need to do is understand, learn it and practice it. The benefits of meditation are, like fasting, varied as well. Alice Walton wrote in Forbes, how scientific studies are, "...reporting that meditation helps relieve our subjective levels of anxiety and depression, and improve attention, concentration, and overall psychological well-being." ( 2/9/15. Accessed 1/11/17).

In the Christian tradition, meditation is understood as "mulling" or "chewing" on a Scripture. I suppose we could just change the word "meditation" but this seems silly. But this is what I try to do in my One Minute Meditations. It is simply taking a scripture passage, in context, and asking a few reflective questions to get one thinking, mulling, and chewing, basically focusing on one verse - one concept: "what does this mean for me?"

Our lives are going to get filled up, even if we stop. We need very much to be more attentive to how we handle it. Taking a break - taking a vacation - taking a day off - praying - meditating - none of these are a waste of time, they are to be a way for life to take root and flourish.

I am no expert but in my journey through the "valley of suck" and these weeks on disability, I have been able to lose 30 pounds in 30 days, learn to eat better, and keep the weight off for over a year for my heart health. I have been able to work on writing (two book drafts are done), and I've also been able to rediscover my love for cooking through using cast iron cookware. It has not been easy, but I can tell you I also have watched less TV and read more.

I credit a good bit of this to practicing stillness and meditation. Make the most of meditation - even if it is just the one minute variety.

MAY I ASK: What are you gonna do about it? What 1 simple habit will you do to fill 1 minute of your day to meditate?

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Life May Be Good But It Still Sucks Too.

Can we all stop being pretentious about life for at least a moment or two? I really like the “Life is Good” t-shirts, hats, wheel covers, tooth brushes, toilet paper, etc. but you know what?

Sometimes life sucks.
Maybe it is just an hour, or a day, a week. It might even be more than this...maybe a year? I know some of you may feel the need to cheer me up but please don’t.  I am not having one of those days.  I am actually doing pretty good as I sit in a college student center, drinking coffee and writing. I am writing...a lot, even if not on my blog.  I’ve got a couple of book projects underway and our team for the Georgia Five Day Academy For Spiritual Formation is working on our plans for the event (which I am super excited about and hope you’ll take a look)!

But I have also been doing a lot of reading and listening to other’s stories.  I see my own kids’ lives and my heart breaks even as they are growing and getting their feet under them.  But the reality is still there: sometimes life sucks.  It sucks that their mom will not be physically and emotionally present with them for the many things life has in store for them.  That sucks.

Just because life sucks, does not mean there are not takeaways.  This is what journaling and blogging help me with.  They give me something to look back on, a “plumbline” if you will.  I can measure my life against my life - because life is not a competition with anyone else - it is mine. I get to determine what I measure myself against.  So do you.

I want to share the “money-quote” I came across this weekend especially since everyone is so obsessive about our politicians right now: “Don’t be a politician. Be a human who can admit he changed his mind."  That observation by author Matt Rudinsky is concise and to the point: we get to change.  Journaling allows you see that in yourself, mark it, consider why, and empower you to go forward even when life is not going your way.

Journeying through the Valley of Suck, I have been marking that change in me through my journal and if you follow me, here in my blog too.  And for the record, I do have a few other measures to help mark my journey, and one of those is Scripture.  During this time I’ve been able to consider Biblical texts which I had not done before: Job, Ecclesiastes, and the Psalms. It is not that I hadn’t READ them, but HOW I READ has changed.  These books are real now in a sense they had not been before.

I thank God (literally) the Bible was written by so many different people because these voices serve to balance out the human spiritual experience, IF you choose to look at it that way.  These texts (and others) point out a transparency that seems to be easily overlooked or maybe dismissed without giving them their due.  When I read them, I see the evidence that God understands that life does suck at times.

Look, I have my temper-tantrums. I support pity-parties when you need them (see my blog on that one). But this goes with my belief I am still growing.  I am human and I can admit I can and many times, need to change my mind.  So this week, I’m praying:

“Gracious God, be patient with me, foolish child that I am.”

One day I hope to grow up.  And even though the valley of suck still sucks, I’m also thankful my kids still have one parent even if it is me, foolish child that I am.

MAY I ASK? How have you grown or what have you learned in your valley of suck?

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A New Year and Some Help in the Valley of Suck

I hate New Year's Resolutions.

Seriously, I just feel I have to put that fact out there.  I am good with just calling them resolutions or goals.  And I do not want to dissuade you from making good, life changing decisions in a new year.  My problem with them, I think, is that it makes the new year seem like things from last year just went "poof!" and they're gone.

They aren't.

You know it and I know it.  I know it more personally than ever I guess.  The valley of suck, this period of grief and readjustment continues.  Another first is coming this week: our wedding anniversary is just ahead - my first one without Heather.

The new year did not bring an end to the reality of our loss and readjustment.  My kids and I are still healing and our hearts still ache.  There are bad days and good days and moments where we expect to hear Heather come through the door or laugh or shout our names because we did something silly and stupid.

Even so, there is hope in a new year. There are so many changes which I can see coming down the road, so many opportunities before us, so many decisions each of us have to make for ourselves and how we continue to become a "new" family.  We made some new traditions among the old ones and said goodbye to a few as well.

But I still did not make any new year's resolutions.  I don't because I know I won't ever keep them, not if I make them at the new year mark.  I have found I do better before or after January 1.  Either that or I make the decision at a different time of the year, usually at the place where I see the need for change.

This week, as I began the new year, I did listen to my heart and found a longing, a longing for guidance, a need for being more attentive.  From it came a breath prayer: "Holy Spirit, speak clear so I may hear and follow faithfully this year."  Even as I pray it, I am reminded my responsibility here is precisely to HEAR.

So far, I have found two things which have been most helpful and have already shaped and guided my discernment process.

The first was connecting to Michael Hyatt.  If you aren't familiar with Hyatt, you can check out his blog at  I came across his blog in November and a webinar he did on writing.  One of his resources, "Your Best Year Ever," helped me drill down to eight goals I want to make happen in this coming year.  Enrollment for this course has passed now but you would still benefit from his other works.

Here is what I want to encourage you to do that I learned from Michael and working on my own goals: KNOW WHAT MOTIVES ARE BEHIND YOUR RESOLUTION/GOAL.  If you are making any goal whether it is weight loss, exercise, family life, work related, etc. don't jus make a resolution or plan.  No, take some time to write out 3 or more motives BEHIND the goal.  When things get bumpy (and they will) or you sense a conflict in your life regarding a decision, it is likely here, in your motivations, where the conflict lies.

The second is the book, Mini Habits by Stephen Guise.   I'm still reading but it has already helped me with following through on my goals.  Everything started for Stephen with doing 1 push-up a day. But Guise doesn't just share his experience of living a better life through making mini habits, he examines the science and reasoning why this is a better way.  I downloaded this on my Kindle and suspect it will be a go-to reference for the coming year.

Now, I'm not going to tell you what all my goals are but one is probably obvious and it is to discern God's leading in the coming year.  Now, that may seem vague, and I mean it to be.  It is actually much more specific BUT my point is, your spiritual growth, improving your relationship with God is NOT going to just happen in 2017.  God's grace empowers you to move toward God if you want but God is not going to force you.  Paul's point to the church at Corinth was, in part, to encourage them in this way when he writes to run "the race" as though there is a prize to be won (1 Corinthians 9:24).  The prize is the relationship you develop with God - God alone is the prize - no temporal trophy is to be won.

As I have looked back, I find my intuition to have played out, namely that grieving fully the loss of my wife with each surge of emotion, has made each decision and each day a little easier.  The valley still sucks, the loss still is felt, but life, my life, is meant to go forward.  So I will, living from grace to grace, running knowing the prize is always present.

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Our Family's First Christmas in the Valley of Suck

So we made it to today.

The first Christmas for my kids without their mom.

The first Christmas without my wife.

How are we doing it?  We're making it.  One breath at a time.  One moment at a time.

We have kept some traditions in place and added a new twist or two along the way.  It is not the same.  A year ago we really expected to have a few more years together.  Heather was so full of life, hope, and energy.  We were blessed by being "adopted" by some friends who made it an incredible time.

This year was different.  The kids and I spent the Christmas Eve at the church we have been attending for a couple of months.  It was so different from Christmas Eves of past years.  I did not preach but instead volunteered on the parking lot team for two of the three services.  Every time I went inside, my kids were in different conversations with new friends they've been making.

Different and yet, very much the same.  The traditions of our family and our faith have proven to me just how healing and comforting traditions can be.  If there is one thing I have learned and would counsel, it is this: do not dismiss all traditions when walking through the valley of suck.

Do indeed add a twist or two along the way.  You can certainly leave out some things too if you need it.  Every little decoration did not come out! In fact, probably half stayed in boxes.  One of Heather's legacies was that we would NEVER be at a loss for decorations!

Did I wonder how it would be?  Yes, often I did.  I wondered what would trigger me; what sights or sounds or smells, would bring back memories?  I was most surprised when the chorus of Silent Night began and the candles were lit in the sanctuary.  The words would not come but only tears. Oh, I wouldn't give that up for anything!  And it was then my imagination, a godly gift indeed, kicked in and I could see, if only for a moment, Heather and us, together, singing in worship on Christmas Eve!

This above all else has brought me the most comfort in the tradition of my faith now: to know that when I gather with the Body of Christ, at that time then I am closest to Heather.  For if we know anything about heaven, it is where God is high and lifted up and the saints are celebrating more profoundly than we can imagine!  And, for at least a few moments, we are in one accord.

What grace is given us all!  What mysteries we so often miss in our rush to "move on?"  How thankful I am for the Faith, for the gift of Jesus Christ, for "the hope once given" that is given still to those who will seek after Immanuel.  Indeed, God is with us, even in the valley of suck...especially at Christmas.

Have mercy.  Come Savior, come.

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The Desert and Distractions: God Comes for Us In the Valley of Suck

Growing up, my grandparents lived in west Texas.  There ain't much of anything in west Texas except for "grasshopper" oil pumps and tumbleweeds and sand.  Lots of sand.  It is so dry and lacking in moisture that one of my uncles told the story of how desperate the termites were for something to eat, home inspectors started finding them eating sheetrock.

I think movies and shows portray deserts well most times.  While they hold much beauty, they are very unforgiving places.  There are very few things to distract one in the desert.

On Sunday, the sermon I listened to was a challenge to our popular culture and the holiday season.  It wasn't for the usual reason of consumerism but another of its temptations: busy-ness and distraction.  This is not new though - it isn't unique to our day and time.

While today's preacher went one direction, I want to track a bit different road, one that leads us into the desert.  Why?  Precisely because the desert, rather than being an image of isolation from people, provides an image of limiting distractions from our lives.

If you spend time reading the writings of the desert fathers and mothers of the early centuries, you find they often gathered together and spent time with others.  They went to the desert, not to escape relationship, but to wrestle with the demons of our world and the "old self."  This is what Paul wrote the Ephesian church: "Put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its evil desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (4:22-23)"

The temptation of the holiday season, of our working lives, of our worldly lives, is to be busy - to always be about doing more, earning more, and getting more.  Even within religion, there is a constant push to be more like culture and less like Christ Jesus.  If you are not being "fed" or if the teaching isn't to your liking, then you just move along.  Hear this warning from one ancient Christian:
"I warn you, guard against this wrong attitude about the spiritual life - that is, thinking that you must ever be seeking better counselors, new teachings, greater spiritual precepts, and reading book after book.  These things may be good in and of themselves, or they may be in error.  But even the best spiritual teaching will not benefit you at all if you are not growing and walking in the Spirit of Christ." 
Some would never consider these words if I had introduced the writer as St. John of the Cross but his words speak and remind us of our need to look always for the Spirit of Christ Jesus.  Sometimes we think being a monk means someone has nothing to do with other people but that is far from the case, especially if you look more into John of the Cross and his story.  His passion and love for Jesus was something so offensive that he was imprisoned by other monks!  He saw a need for reformation within the Roman Catholic Church at and his order of monks.  Funny thing is, many reformers in many traditions have experienced much the same.  Even though John Wesley would write and preach out against the idea of "the desert" image, in similar ways, he walked through the desert in attempting to reform the Church of England.

If you take time to read Isaiah 35, you'll find it reads more like a Psalm than the typical words we think of from a prophet.  You'll also pick up on a similar theme I've touched on here: the desert.  I've written so much about dealing with grief and "the valley of suck," it is really easy for folks to tune out.  People question, "When are you going to get over it?"  Well, Isaiah says, you're going to come out of the desert when God comes and God saves (35:4).  Of course, Isaiah is referring to the Jewish people in exile but the application is true for us all.

This is the season of Advent.  We live in a world that is the desert.  We all live in some form of the valley of suck.  For some, certainly for me, the brightness of "the star in the east" seems far brighter this year.  I guess, sometimes the desert is right where we need to be to see the reason for the season and the reason for it all.  There really are less distractions out here.

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8 Thoughts for Surviving Holidays in the Valley of Suck

We didn’t know last Christmas would be our last one with my wife, Heather.  We didn’t “know” but Heather and I both had the feeling it was a good possibility. The last doctor's appointment did not bode well. Like today, I wrote on the eve of a new Star Wars movie.  I wrote a year ago about “Saying No to Star Wars” and I said the reason I said no was because the there was a bigger yes - I needed to live according to a bigger “YES!” which was Heather and my kids.

I have reflected on that often this past year - the power that comes when we say “YES” to something deep within us - in our soul - something which gives our lives true meaning and purpose.  Saying no to Star Wars wasn’t really all that hard - all I was saying “no” to was that I wasn’t going to see the midnight showing.  THAT didn’t make me any less a fan - it set a new tone for my life though, one which I have been living more and more each day and one which has me living more within the framework of faith, trust, and grace.

I am saying no once again this year to opening night of Star Wars: Rogue One because I’m saying yes to peace in me - in my soul.  I am saying yes to a “peace that passes understanding,” and "no" to a culture in our world which orders our lives around entertainment.  I will still go to see Rogue One and probably, I’ll get back to going to opening nights in the future.  But, in my journey in the valley of suck, I’ve learned to listen to my soul - to practice stillness - and make note of the lessons God’s Spirit reveals.  Here are eight thoughts that I’ve had in the valley of suck from facing the holidays last year and in facing them this year.

  1. Make the change now.  Don’t wait until January 1.
Last December I had a doctor’s appointment for a check-up and found a few issues, one of which was being a bit overweight.  Rather than wait till January 1, I started in on her recommended diet and a new workout routine.  Not only did I drop 30 pounds in three months, I’ve kept it off and learned to eat better.  Unfortunately, I had a dangerous spike in my blood pressure just a few months later.  It might have been worse if I hadn’t changed my behavior.  BUT I’ve learned through the years, I stick better with new behaviors/goals/habits if I tackle them when identified.  
  1. Make small changes.  Don’t try to do it all at once.
From the above example, I started with small changes: first, getting doctor input and second, picking the right diet that focused on portion control and simple changes.  After that was underway, I added a change in exercising.  There was more than enough change I couldn’t control a year ago.  I could handle the small changes.

  1. Start with easy.  Don’t go for the biggest task or goal.
Sometimes this means ignoring things or finding someone to help.  The easier things are, the simpler and less stressful.  I know many people wanted to cook for our family during Heather’s illness and following her death.  Problem was/is, none of us had the same diet.  Heather could only eat certain things, I had my issues, my daughter is vegan and my son can eat anything.  The easiest thing?  Gift cards for grocery stores and Subway.

  1. Go slowly.  Don’t try to rush your emotions.
Grief takes time.  I wish you could skip through it but really, you can’t.  They go at their own pace and for caregivers that is damn slowly.  Accept it and let them come.  I didn’t get hit with anger and the “why” questions till last month - five months after Heather died.  That was the right time.
  1. Get your emotions out.  Don’t hold them in…(Soda rule: contents are under pressure)
This relates to number 4 too.  Grief can be like shaking up a soda can or bottle - don’t give it an outlet and you’ll find the contents are under ever increasing pressure.  Express them in healthy ways so they won’t come out in unhealthy ones.  For some of us, a punching bag is a good investment and for others it maybe poetry.

  1. Honor some old traditions.  Don’t feel you have to do everything.
We decorated the tree right after we got back from Thanksgiving and played the same Christmas CD’s and we’ll watch “A Muppet Christmas Carol” on Christmas Eve.  Once I put the stockings up though, I was done.  Not putting up Heather’s stocking broke me.  Half the decoration are in their boxes.  That is okay.

  1. Add a new tradition or two.  Don’t try to repeat the stories of Christmases past.
Hanging at Hogwarts and enjoying Butterbeer
At Thanksgiving, we chose to honor one of Heather’s dreams for our family to go the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Orlando.  We had saved up and so the kids and I followed through on it.  For Christmas, we’ll be in a church where I’m not pastoring for the first time in 20 years and we’ll be volunteering.  Some things are the same but some things are new.

  1. Keep faith.  Don’t ignore the spiritual aspects of the season/holiday.
Each holiday and season, I think, comes with a focus and something to reflect upon.  Take the opportunity built into these times to seek after God.  Of course, there is room to question God, to wrestle with faith but it is also a time to rest in the tradition of the season and holiday.  There are many who lived before you and I, and they told the stories.  Keep faith.

Much love to you and your’s this season from the valley of suck.

Why Ask Why? Touching the Depths in the Valley of Suck


Kids ask it all the time when they do not get what they want.  It is one of the most basic questions for learning.  At times, it will also eat away at your soul.

"Why?" doesn't fit easily into any of the Dr. Kubler-Ross' 5 stages of grief ( denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance), but if it fits anywhere, I think it tends to fit at anger.  In my journey through the valley of suck (before, during, and after the death of my wife from colon cancer), I have not really dealt with "why."

Those who have been through the valley know these five stages are not easy to track.  They are not stages that go "step 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5." They hit you coming and going and they will take advantage of everyday life.  Sometimes it feels like a Three Stooges skit.  Grief is always Moe, to our Larry and Curly, you never know if grief will pull your nose, poke your eyes or kick you in the rear.

But "Why?" hit me, not surprisingly, at the "happiest place on earth."  One of my wife's wishes had been to go to Orlando before our kids both finished High School.  We did it this past week but on the day we went to the Magic Kingdom I came to the place of asking "Why?"

Oh, nothing was Disney's fault.  It was just the reality of seeing families being together.  I'm sure there were other single parents around but I never saw them or it didn't register.  We made the best of it for sure, it was a good day in the end but the nagging question finally came...

Why God?

I've noted before that I've wrestled with God throughout this journey.  I have been angry at God and let God have it many days.  So what brought it out now?

I think, maybe, I got to the end of things.  At the moment the contrast of my life was most stark - all the moments when Heather SHOULD have been with us and was not - the wall I was trying to hold up - crashed.

But there is no answer to "Why God?"  I knew this to be the case which is what led me to fight against it all this time.  We live life and in living, we all face the same things - those who are good and those who are evil.  It is not lightly that Jesus says, "God causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." (Matthew 5:45)  If you read the context, it is in regards to our facing persecution for our faith but it points to the larger truth we all will face difficulties.  The question is: will we face difficulties with faith or without faith?

From what I have observed, we will face a "Why God?" time in our lives; most likely, it will even be more than once.  Like building muscles, these times provide resistance to our faith; they cause us to "push back" or "stretch ourselves" and thus, stretch our faith and trust in God.

We keep finding ways to get out of straining ourselves in life, though, haven't we?  We're so innovative in coming up with automation and robotics to do the "heavy lifting" of our lives.  We laugh at the humans in the movie "Wall-E" for how they can do nothing on their own, yet we are moving in that very direction.  But when it comes to faith - our spirituality - the condition of our souls - there is no automation.  There is life and there is death.

So why is it we don't ask God more often about life rather than death?  Why do you not wake up and ask - "Why God?" when you get to live another day?  Or after you make it through another day..."Why God?" What do you have in store next?

I'll tell you why: you and I take health and life for granted.  We care about it less because we have the luxury of taking it for granted.  But the truth is, you can't - not really - death is always there.  For some "Why God?" is a silly question altogether because faith and spirituality seem pointless.  Asking "why?" even seems silly, and I would a point.

This is why I fought it.  Call it a practice of "practical atheism" maybe - I never believed there was going to be an answer given.  I didn't get one when I asked it this week and I do not expect to get one.  But I needed to ask it anyway if only to take the next step in living.

"Why?"  Because we are living beings and in this world, living things die.  Call that being a "practical biologist" or a "practical human" even.  Asking "why" leads to conclusions and, hopefully, more questions.  These are the questions which lead me back to being a "practical spiritualist," that there is something far more noble in the inner journey of the world's religions.

Please don't take this to mean I am a universalist for I am far from that.  It is simply my observation that the majority of human beings are wondering "why" about a great many things which leads them to seek after the divine and the spiritual.  My observation is when we ask "Why God" in relationship to the death of a person who we love unconditionally, we may find ourselves as close as we may ever get to the bottom, to the place we can truly know mercy.

I have no idea if any of this makes sense to you, my friend.  If you leave with anything, I hope it is this: Go ahead and ask "Why God?"  BUT, fight it as long as you must for when you come to the place of asking it, you have earned it.  You may not get an answer, in fact, I suspect you won't.  What I hope you find is what I have have found - a place to stop; maybe the bottom; maybe just a place to catch your breath.  And when you have found this, you have found mercy in the valley of suck.

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