How to be a good friend to yourself. (With footnotes.)

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I know that not everyone needs to know how to not be their own enemy. I’m glad about this.

But for those of you who find it easier to be kind to every single person in the world than to be decent to yourself, or those who just want to hear more about being friendly to yourself, here’s a little list, with footnotes down below.

1. Don’t hate yourself. Sometimes this is harder than it should be, but it’s an important first step. Do you hate the baby birds in that nest over there? Do you hate donkeys? Do you hate sweet-cheeked babies? No? Then don’t hate yourself, silly. *

2. Walk with yourself. Hey there, this is a good pace. We’re doing great today. We love this. †

3. Spend time in your own head, rather than trying to guess the thoughts of others. Lately, when Gertrude the Anxiety Dragon would like to carry me over into the imagined mental processes of people around me, I tell her a firm no. “That’s not my head, Gertrude. I don’t belong in there.” ‡

4. Give yourself permission to exist. Listen, kids. You are not a role. You are not a type. You are not a mirror. You are a human being. A squishy soft miracle with a whole lot of possibility in every one of your cells. You are not a human doing-all-the-right things. You are not a human saying-all-the-right-things. You are a person with permission to exist, in all the complexity of what that means, and you get to see how God’s possibility will unfold in your life. I can’t think of anything better. §

5. Ask yourself questions like, “What would you like to do today?” Maybe you have a lot of things that you need to do, but don’t necessarily want to do. That’s okay. That’s normal. But is there one thing you really want to do? I think it would be fun to figure out what it is, and then find time for it by refraining from scrolling through social media or going on Youtube rabbit trails. Do that thing, and then remind yourself that you are doing it, and that you chose it. “I’m going for a walk in the forest because I really want to.” 

6. Enjoy where you are. Where you are is the best place to be. It’s the only place you can experience. Right? We don’t get two bodies or two souls. We have this one that moves and can be in a certain space and time in the world. That means that at any moment in time, we are not doing lots of things, not being lots of places.

But where you are and what you are doing is the very best thing, because it is the thing that you can feel with your hands, see with your eyes, hear and smell and taste. Even if where you are is trapped under a six-year-old’s sweaty arm really late in a long drawn out bedtime situation that involved many cups of water and an interrupted bedtime story. It’s the best place. ¶

8. Be in your body for a while, instead of your head. Are the sheets soft? Is the coffee hot? Do you like the smells in the air around you? Do you think that red paint looks tasty? Don’t eat it. But imagine what it would taste like if it were actually food. Yum. But no, yuck. Really, don’t eat it.

9. See yourself clearly. It is not self love to believe you are the person you wish you were, to hold tightly to that picture and defend it like a honey badger whenever anyone calls you on something that doesn’t fit the picture. The most friendly thing you can do for your dear self is open the door that you are so vehemently standing in front of. Let the fresh air and light in, let the Spirit of God softly sing over you, over the real you

10. Watch the sky whenever you can. It’s just so big, it’s so much bigger than anything in your everyday life. If you can see stars, you may get an idea of how tiny and beloved you are, that you have been set down gently in your life, to be this person, to learn that you are loved and that because you are loved and made by God, you don’t get to trash talk yourself. And the more you learn this, the more you stop loving others because you think they are better than you and can save you. You learn to love simply and tenderly, to hold others in your heart because of the honor of being created ones together. **

* Self loathing is one of the trickiest things I know. When I don’t know how to feel, or mental health is not in a good place, I revert to good actions and then remind myself that these are not the actions of someone who hates herself.
For example: I took a shower and then put coconut oil on my hair. These are not the actions of someone who hates herself. I went for a walk and listened to my favorite music. These are not the actions of someone who hates herself. I made a stir fry and lit candles at my table, sitting and talking with my kids. These are not the actions of someone who hates herself. Sometimes it’s all I can do. I’m feeling the bad feelings, but I’m acting on something different.

† The next part of this is walking with God. Every store you go into, every hard thing, you are doing it with the Spirit of God near you. Hovering, gently touching, ready to take the hard things on. Jesus beside you, looking at the tags on the second-hand sweaters, or finding a clear, soaring path through the tangly jungles of social interactions. Going for a jog with you. Looking at you with such clear-eyed tenderness, even though he knows every single hard or bitter thing in your heart. 

‡ The advanced pose is to not base what you do or think on the imagined reactions of others. For those of us with anxiety or neurological differences, this is trickier than it might appear. Some of us don’t actually know what we really think. And even trying to figure it out can bring on a whole emotional break down. Why? Because it can be a terrifying thing to realize that you don’t actually know how to be if you aren’t basing it on the reaction you are expecting. This is an intermediate trick, therefore, but it is a very friendly thing you can do for yourself. I call this permission to exist. See the next point.

§ This can be confusing also. Of course, we are interconnected. Of course, we touch each other in every area of life, and kindness goes an incredible distance. Mostly because we have the privilege of reassuring others that they too have permission to exist. But there is something about defining yourself as a role that is dehumanizing and doesn’t honor God in his continuing creation within you. For instance, if you are the role of mother, in the verb sense, you can fail at this. But you can’t fail at being a human, at being a creation of the most beautiful, smart, absorbing and wonderful being in the world.  

¶ This includes doing nice things and not feeling guilty about them or trying not to enjoy them because you’re fairly sure you shouldn’t be okay with being happy. Forget that crap!

** No judgment here. I’m in the self trash talk boat. Valiantly leaping out of it, swimming for shore.

***

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Treasures.

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I brought some of my treasures out, missing the forests and oceans of my other home(s).

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I've always had a problem with waking up in the middle of the night and thinking too much. The Psalmist says, “I meditate on you in the watches of the night.” I wish for it. Sometimes, when I am in those unforgiving hours when every problem feels like a life sentence, I try to visualize being completely surrounded by God. I am floating, suspended in grace and love. I am weightless, safe, and tiny, a speck in the river. The river is mercy, purpose, and good heartedness toward me.

I drift off to sleep eventually.

*

Can anyone overcome a life of bad patterns of thinking?

Sometimes it is lifted, and I feel free and like I’m completely changed. Other times, it plummets back down on me. Anxiety. A pounding in the heart. A quickening of the breath. Danger! Danger!

Gertrude is back.

Gertrude, my anxiety dragon. She’s rather sweet and lovable sometimes, curled up asleep in the closet. But she can be a regular pain in the bum if she wakes up while I’m trying to write a book, or go shopping (she hates shopping) or talk to Chinua about plans (she hates making plans.)

She worries too much about danger.

“Go back to sleep, Gertrude,” I tell her.

She responds with a gust of flame and wraps around my heart, making it hurt.

“Or don’t,” I say. I can’t make her do what I want.

I want to love her, like I want to love everyone. Nothing can be too scary if it’s loved. But sometimes I’m preoccupied by what ifs- what if I didn’t have a pet anxiety dragon? What if she toddled off into the forest one day, never to be seen again? What if instead of an anxiety dragon I had a confidence rabbit?

Can you love something and want to exchange it for a rabbit?

*

She’s here at the moment, trying to warn me of imminent danger. I’ve tried to convince her that these woods are safe, that the trees are our friends, but she’s nothing if not vigilent.

Sometimes when Gertrude is here, she locks up my neck.

Sometimes I may have to go to bed for the day.

Today, I have a plan. Fifteen minutes, not thinking too much, tricking the dragon.

Fifteen minutes of work at a time.

Live in my body, hugging my family, not thinking about what I cannot control.

And tricks, lots of tricks, tricky tricks.

Like:

A cup of tea.

A drive on the motorbike for the breeze on my skin.

One small task done.

Pretending work is not work, so Gertrude doesn’t blast me.

And noticing every little thing, to mark it, to make it physical, to not let fear rule me. 

*

We’ve had rain lately, and the skies have been gorgeous. Soon Isaac will wake up and come to find me and hug me. Leafy has been making sugar glass. I’m learning a new song on the clarinet, and working on mandolin scales. Today is gardeniing day, and I think I’ll head over to Shekina to work in the garden for a while, then come back with my friend Claudia to work on sorting and packing.

(We’re moving house, which is rather big news. Gertrude is worried about it. I’m excited.)

I made granola the other day, and there’s nothing like granola and milk with mango sliced into it. Or maybe I’ll have a smoothie, with coconut milk and strawberries. I’ll burn a candle. Maybe work on my blanket. Later Kenya and I will watch a show or listen to music together. Chinua will move a few boxes over to the new house and in between working, practice his trumpet. Solomon will dance and hug me. I’m here. These trees are friendly. The animals are safe. The woods are only woods.

It’s been this way for a long time.

God is ever and always beside me, his breath in the wind that swoops through the leaves overhead. His kiss on my face. I have nothing to fear.

On trust, doubt, and loss.

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On Saturday, like many, I felt incredibly sad to hear that Rachel Held Evans had died

I mostly knew her through Twitter. We didn’t really interact there, but whenever I was wrestling with some injustice, I would see her comments on whatever had happened (a shooting, an anti-refugee statement, racism)  and always felt deeply thankful for her voice in the mix of all the other voices. She was always quick to respond with the love of Jesus. She reflected love in action. 

One thing she was known for was making space for people who wrestle with their faith. It’s important. It’s foolish to turn a blind eye to the need for making room for those who are in a chrysalis of doubt.

Tim Keller says, “A faith without some doubts is like a human body with no antibodies in it. People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask the hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic. A person's faith can collapse almost overnight if she failed over the years to listen patiently to her own doubts, which should only be discarded after long reflection.”

Studies show that “of America's major faiths, mainline Protestants have the worst retention rate among millennials, with just 37% staying in the fold.”

The truth is that Christians need a clear, sacred space to wrestle with doubt and belief without feeling outcast from the communal space of believers. If questioning faith is off-limits, we risk losing the beautiful creation that is formed by a community of believers who have gone deep, seen the mystery, and chosen to continue on the path of Jesus.

Writers like Rachel put words and validity to questions that many people have, and yesterday and today I have seen hundreds of people telling their stories of wrestling with doubt, saying that Rachel’s writings helped them to the other side- through the cloud to something beautiful and new on the other side.

Faith is not a static thing that you hold or put in a box to keep precious and untouched. In fact, if you change the word faith to trust, you see that it always needs to be tethered to something out there. The massive, incredible presence that my trust is tethered to is God. But this line can be stretched or flown through thin air, it can go through flames, it can drag me through deep waters. 

In my life I wrestle, and in my belief I have moved through many stages, coming through painful processes into something deeper and more real each time. I have buried illusions I had about the perfection of community, what unity actually looks like, what is actually promised in Scripture. (Hint: You can follow Jesus and still have your friends die, your loved ones or yourself racially profiled, have a mental illness or neurological difference, get sick, or struggle with money.)

My journey is of mental illness and anxiety disorder. I have learned what it means to have faith when I don’t have a mind I can trust to be safe for me when I need it. How to have faith when what I see is not always actually there.

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Strong voices who offer sacred space for those in the margins, for those who struggle, voices who ask hard questions and wrestle with the answers are an essential part of the community of Christians. I also feel passionate about a diverse body of believers. I was charismatic growing up, I moved into a more contemplative faith. Now I’m some mix of the two who no longer knows how to worship in a room without windows because I’m so used to sitting where I can see the sky. I live life with people who come from different Christian backgrounds. And I know many more. Each one teaches me something different. Who would we be without the large body of believers? Without all the different flavors of who God is? He is reflected in a lovely way through all of us, even those who are struggling with doubt. Rachel asked hard questions and she wrestled on the behalf of those who needed someone to speak up for them. This is no small thing. It’s quite a legacy in a time when we are unbelievably polarized.

Rest in Peace, dear RHE.

River thoughts.

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It was forty degrees and we were baking, so I took Solo and Isaac to the river.

Don’t forget this, I whispered to myself.

The river was warm, shallow, and full of algae in the late hot season. I trusted in our well developed immune systems. Flowers from nearby trees floated along, and the only other people there were a bunch of kids; the children of parents who work at the guesthouses along the river.

I was there with my boys, who took turns curling into me while I sat on the floor of the river. Every so often I climbed the bank and ran over to the garden to move the sprinklers. (I burned the bottoms of my feet on the hot pavement, not discovering this until later when I found it hard to walk.)

The river, the boys. Isaac attempting to skip rocks. Solo floating and diving down. These are the stories we will tell about our lives. I drive the chariot through town, we walk along swaying bridges. A man walks along the river with a snorkel mask and a spear gun, looking for his dinner.

Back at home, I went to the afternoon market and picked up some chopped pumpkin and made what we call Pumpkin The Egg, after a Thai menu board we saw ages ago. I made carrot juice and we were all tired after too much sun. Isaac lost his first tooth. After dinner, Solo practiced trumpet with Chinua and I practiced my neglected clarinet. Isaac tried to play the clarinet for a while, he’s fascinated with it.

We read together and then prayed for our friends, near and far. Every single thing we did was interrupted. Every thing I planned was edited with some other need. My teenagers are going through hard times. (Not Leafy! Ah, hormones come for all.)

Every time I tried to read or pray, Isaac would suddenly have a thought and HAVE to share it and it drove me crazy. Solo had a rough day in many ways.

But the river, the long hot afternoon, reminiscent of so many hot season afternoons through the years, the little tiny beautiful moments. The sun finally bright again after the smoke. The hope of rain. Change on the horizon. It is such a beautiful life, more intense with joy because it is so fleeting.

An easier way.

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I’m on a solitary writing retreat, thinking about my daily rhythms of life and what helps me versus what hurts me. This morning I meditated, prayed, exercised, showered, and read a chapter in a helpful book. It is now five minutes to 7:00. I feel like I’ve cared for myself. I feel like I’m ready to work. Normally I’ve already tried to get an hour of writing into this time, so it makes sense that I don’t do this every day, or does it?

I don’t do it because of the feeling of walls around me in my life.

There is so much that we don’t do because of the feeling of being fenced in. There are these cramped boundaries we give ourselves. I don’t have enough time. Twenty minutes is all I or you need to do the next thing, so we kinda do have time.

We do have natural limits. I’ve learned this in the past year, as I moved closer to burnout more than I ever have before. However, because the day feels wide and free today, because I am on a retreat, I managed to take care of myself fully, and still end up at the page earlier than I might normally, if I was overwhelmed and procrastinating or avoiding my work. And that means that the time limits are sometimes in my head.

I’m thinking about an easier way to live.

I think it connects well with my faith, with Jesus, who said, “Do not worry about anything, for which of you by worrying can add a single day to her life?”

Or which of you by procrastinating and anxiety can eke another hour out the day?

Or which of you by not playing or taking care of yourself can save up enough for what your children need?

Or which of you by obsessing can control the world and take care of all the needs around you?

Where is this easier way?

Actually, every day is wide and free. Tasks don’t close me in. My thoughts close me in. Thoughts that say, don’t exercise or work on your writing right now because you have a meeting in six hours and its probably better to walk in circles and think about all the things you have ever done wrong.

Work is not the problem. Work can always be holy in a trusting heart. Each day is full of possibility, of walking in the glittering shadow of God, who creates as easily as he breathes. The Creative Wild Spirit of God, ready for me to give her enough room to turn every conversation into a sanctuary for kindness. I am not in some godless boring world where every act is doled out by me in a scarce approximation of building a house, brick by brick.

Jesus invites me to create with him. To continue what has already been done for eons, this continuing creation in love that floods the devastated places.

I can admit that I don’t come to peace naturally, but perhaps a hard won peace is still precious.

***

Now you can support my writing on Patreon. Patrons can give as little as $1 a month, and get extra vlogs and posts. I really really appreciate your support, it helps me to keep going with writing and publishing my work. A new Patron only post (An Illustrated List of Good and Inspiring Things) is up now.