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Just Can’t Stop Pretzel Breathing

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So, I learned a new technique a few months ago from my son’s therapist. It’s about breathing in while folding my arms around each other and pulling them in against my chest. Something about the breathing in, folding, and exhaling interrupts the body’s stress processes and calms us down. In other words, it takes the “wig” out of “wigging out.”

Well, I thought I’d just be reminding my son of this lovely new tool, but instead, I find myself pretzel breathing in rush hour traffic on the way to karate; while watching my kids painstakingly slowly pack their backpacks up and tie shoes as I hear the bus rolling up; when we are fighting homework battles with one who isn’t big on receiving feedback; when arguments break out between siblings right when I need to get out the door; when the dogs eat the important mail; and when the person in front of me in line is simultaneously on the phone while trying to order bagels and coffee for 30 people who aren’t currently with her.

Yeah, I really just can’t stop pretzel breathing. I’m not sure if it’s counterproductive or not to replace OCD/anxiety symptoms with obsessively using techniques to interrupt them, but I pretzel breathe to the umpteenth power. Cannot get enough of it. It’s a new compulsion, and I’m not even the patient.

I even went so far as to demonstrate my awesome new skill at my moms’ prayer group at the start of our prayer year, and since then, one prayer warrior mom has reported she’s in love with it too. Really, all of the pills* in the world to fix this, that, and the other thing, and all we have to do is twist and breathe? Sign me up!

It works so well that I don’t think I’ll ever stop. I’m pretty sure my gravestone will read: “Faithful wife, mother, friend. Pretzel-breathing advocate to the very end.”

So, I asked myself, is anything close to pretzel breathing in the Bible?

I have no idea.

I think taking Sabbath is along the same lines. [For more on this, kindly refer to: “And on the Seventh Day He Rested….” The kid in the picture is pretty cute!]

What I do know is that prayer, Bible reading, and worship are like that. When we participate, they beautifully interrupt our trudge through the sludge of life and ground us. Praying empties me of my burdens. Yes, sometimes I need to pray the same thing over and over again until I am ready to fully let it go to God and trust Him, but the discipline of running to Him first is what frees me.

When I read the Bible, it always speaks directly into something I am going through. That’s because it is not just a history book. It is the living Word of God. It comes alive in us because it is always relevant and because He sends the Holy Spirit to those Who trust in Him, to help us gain understanding. God’s words are meant to be read back and prayed to Him. That’s what engages them in our lives: believing them, speaking them, talking to our Creator. It’s not something we chant to get our minds or hearts in a better place (although that is a definite result). It’s living dialogue with God, Our Father. Unlike pretzel breathing, it does more than calm the body. It calms the soul. It says: “At rest, my soul. You’ve spoken with and trusted in God.”

And worship is praising Him, singing to Him, acknowledging Him, dancing to Him, honoring Him. We worship even when we tell others about something great He has taught us or has done in our lives. It’s acknowledging His awesomeness, and no matter how rough your day, wouldn’t that turn your perspective around a bit? If we were each focused on His awesomeness?

Pretzel breathing is a fantastic stress tool, that’s for sure, but its effects are simply in the moment. I have to keep performing that task when different scenarios come up that stress me out.

Prayer, Bible reading, and worship are also beneficial, if done repeatedly, but the difference is: They last. They build into our peace like a storage chest of truth, rest, hope, and promise. Practicing them, as well as practicing thankfulness,** eventually leads us to and sustains us at a state of joy, no matter our circumstances.

There’s no harm in wrapping my arms inward and exhaling now and again. I honestly don’t think I even know how to stop, at this point. But, by far, the best way to interrupt the day’s stress is to spend time with God. Eventually, we get to the point where His Word is in our heads and hearts, and He speaks it to us right when we need it.

Psalm 119:10-18, unnamed author

I seek you with all my heart;
do not let me stray from your commands.
I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you.
Praise be to you, Lord;
teach me your decrees.
With my lips I recount
all the laws that come from your mouth.
I rejoice in following your statutes
as one rejoices in great riches.
I meditate on your precepts
and consider your ways.
I delight in your decrees;
I will not neglect your word.

Be good to your servant while I live,
that I may obey your word.
Open my eyes that I may see
wonderful things in your law [emphasis mine].

*This does not mean I am in any way anti-medication. Our personal journey to making medication decisions can be found in Not Just on Sundays.

 **This is a great book for practicing thankfulness:

Voskamp, Ann. One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010.

 

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Someone Else’s Courtroom: How Exactly Did I Get Here?

Someone Else's Courtroom-How Exactly Did I Get HereLately I’ve been feeling a bit overwhelmed by people stepping across boundaries into each other’s lives where they may not belong. Ever feel that way? Sometimes, they are my own toes being stepped on, but often, I am merely witness to someone landing in another person’s courtroom without realizing it.

How did we become so good at grabbing the judge’s gavel and slamming it around?

I’m not talking about expressing public opinion on social, political, or spiritual issues. I’m referring to people jumping into our marriages, parenting, and family business without receiving an invite.

You know those little comments made half in jest or with a veil of concern? The ones that really have nothing behind them other than that person’s different standard, unsolicited opinion, or insecurity? It can look like this:

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When We Humans Find Ourselves Barking at Everything

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My otherwise laid-back, lazy, happy-go-lucky Shih Tzu Samson couldn’t care less about much most days. The world goes on around him, and he sometimes gets up to engage, but he’s often very content just to lay in his warm bed and give us a toothy grin or a quick glance of acknowledgment. Unlike his high-strung sister Delilah, he is easy to be around, low-maintenance, easy-going.

Except when he perceives something different outside as a threat. 

Usually this is a trash tote at the end of my neighbor’s driveway or a lawn mower my husband left out in the yard for a time. Sometimes it’s a squirrel, turkey, or deer, but most of the time it’s an inanimate object casting a shadow that isn’t usually there and therefore is a threat.

Samson can sit at our window-paneled door for 20 minutes solidly barking away at said “threat.” I often wonder if he finds it confusing that the trash can and/or lawn mower don’t therefore scurry immediately off—or at all.

And when I watch him going crazy for a while, spending all of whatever little energy he has being fierce protector against a mythical enemy, I see myself.

I see all of us.

How often do we, in times of stress, bat at everything in sight in front of us, viewing everything as a perceived threat?

How often do we live in attack mode, ready to pounce? This subject is touched on in “What Scaring Turkeys and Catastrophic Thinking Have in Common,” but looking at it from a slightly different angle: Whom are we screaming at, coming against, jumping on, cutting off, and defending ourselves against, when really, that person is just a lawn mower—coming to, of all things, mow the lawn?

I think so often we do this to those closest to us, with whom we are most comfortable, because we know they’re here to stay, and we need to attack something, after all, and they’re a ready, available, easy target. But I also think we run around in times of stress seeing everyone and everything as the enemy, against us, ready to snatch our time, money, or resources. Dumb as it sounds, it could be the driver in front of us some days whose mission, we’re convinced, is to keep us from getting to that appointment on time. (Yeah, because we know perfect strangers wake up every day plotting to make our lives difficult.)

Or maybe it’s the child coming into the room for math homework help when we finally sat down to pay a bill that’s overdue. Or maybe we just took our first few sips of coffee that afternoon? Maybe we were about to “get our peace on,” and they came into the only time of quiet we have had all day.

Could it be the phone call coming in from a friend who might need help? Do we see that as a drain, a struggle, a time suck, a distraction, keeping us from something else? Something we are frantically trying to cross off our to-do list?

What about the well-meaning neighbor kid coming to the door to sell popcorn for a cause? Is it his fault dinner is burning, our phone is ringing, the toilet is clogged, and the husband is home late?

How about the husband who just walked in the door and straight into Mama Rage without warning because an injustice in the kids’ world needed to be set right, and he’s the first adult she encountered since her anger started smoldering?

Not always, but often, our short, sharp, barky replies in response to anything that moves—or even things that don’t but we think they should!—are the result of us being way…too…busy and overplanned. And when we realize for a fleeting second that we are not God and can’t possibly accomplish all we set out to do that day, we notice we actually have no margins. Life quickly becomes ugly, frantic, stressful, and impossible, really. Nothing feels doable. Even the next crisis needs to take a number. We simply have no room for anything extra to squeeze in and need our attention.

Everything unplanned is “in the way”—and therefore barked at.

We are edgy, grumpy, short-of-temper, and really of no use to anyone.

Maybe that is never you. Or maybe you are around someone who is stuck in this rut and can’t see the light leading him/her out.

The first step is recognizing we have our bat out and are taking a good, solid swing at everyone in sight. (That might feel good in the moment, but we leave scars and dents all over the place that we later have to deal with. They don’t usually repair on their own, as I’m finding out.)

The second step is breathing deeply, being still, taking a moment to regather our thoughts. Pretzel breathing has become one of my new, closest friends. We need to clear our heads and allow for some self-reflection. Taking a few steps back can help us to see at whom and what we are slamming and to decide if that is truly warranted (it rarely is).

Third, for my family, we believe we need to ask God to cleanse our hearts:

Psalm 139:23-24, David speaking ESV
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!

Psalm 51:9-12, David speaking, ESV
Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.

and bring us fresh peace: 

Psalm 29:11, David speaking, ESV
May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace! 

Isaiah 26:3, Isaiah speaking, ESV
You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.

John 14:27, Jesus speaking, ESV
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

Philippians 4:4-7, Apostle Paul speaking, ESV
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;
do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. For us, these verses give us hope that we can stop barking. They offer a fresh start after repenting and then getting our peace on.

We’re not really in control, and barking and swinging are mere attempts to try to grab some control, order, and structure back. What we really need is to be still, examine ourselves, ask God to examine us, and let His peace wash over us to refresh us for the next thing coming our way.

Spoiler Alert: The “next thing” might not be in order on our list. It might very well be an interruption. Either way, we need His peace to keep us from sitting at the door ready to attack anything walking or standing by.

I’d rather live employing defense when I need it and not remain tense and rigid in a constant posture of offense. What about you?

Referring to this book again, because it’s pretty awesome:
Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book About a (Really) Big Problem 
by Kevin DeYoung
http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/

 
 

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Un-Defining a Day: Setting Expectations Properly

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I wasn’t going to blog this morning. I was going to take the day off. I’m tired. I just published my first book. It’s my birthday. It’s the dogs’ birthday (that was God’s very personal gift to me last year: Samson and Delilah landing on this planet exactly on my birthday). I just took my child to the early arrival program while still in my pajamas (vest over me, but you get the picture). I have the oldest home from high school today. I haven’t had my coffee.

I could watch the dogs play with their new rubber squeak toys, sip a pumpkin spice latte, and read my own book. LOL.

I haven’t stopped much to rest in the past two months.

And really, after a blog 6 times a week, for 7 weeks, how much more could I possibly have to say right now?

But this morning was an OCD battle morning. And I realize that I need to blog. I sometimes can’t turn off the writing noise in my head until I’ve thrown a few words out there, italicized and bolded for good measure.

The blogging compulsion is so strong lately that I blogged an email to a high school teacher. Yes, yes, I did. What I mean by that is that I wrote the email blog-style (although it was shorter). After, my son and husband agreed with me that maybe right now I shouldn’t really be trusted to write emails to teachers. It wasn’t horrible or anything. But she probably needed it more in paragraph form. I hope she at least sipped some tea and might consider a little trip to my amazon.com page as a result. But, that really wasn’t my goal or my point.

And this blog isn’t about the specific episode I encountered this morning with some inflexible thinking, rigidity, and panic in one of my offspring. It’s really just about how to not let a day completely derail you. I’m actually learning a lot about this as we look for ways to keep our calm on around here.

As this morning’s getting-dressed-for-school-and-twitching-about-the-time-arriving-to-the-flexible-arrival-school-program episode played out (how’s that for avoiding detail?), I found myself back to my pretzel breathing again. My blood pressure was climbing to unpleasant levels, and I needed to get a grip. I’m not a morning person, I made a decision as a parent not to rush that morning, the husband is traveling all week, and I just have to let perfection go.

But this particular child of mine could not let it go. And so I drew a calm, clear boundary (while thinking a lot about the metal pot I once threw in frustration on Kwajalein—I didn’t throw it at anything but the floor, but that’s a blog for another time). Reliving the feel of tensing my muscles for that metal pot throw in the past really did alleviate the need to do it again today. I don’t throw things anymore (I only have a handful of times anyway). I’m growing up! But I thought about it.

Boundary was received not too long after the last round.

And I know that not every morning is going to fly by and smile at me. I know when we’ve been up too late the night before, the next morning will not be smooth. A birthday doesn’t guarantee that a traveling spouse is home, high school three-hour Back-to-School Night isn’t on the same day, and our usual issues and struggles take a vacation.

I’m in my 40s and just recently figured this out. If you’ve figured it out sooner, that is so awesome. It’s toffee-nut-latte-worthy, really. I genuinely mean that. Sometimes I wonder how I got to be this age and still do not have this whole expectation thing down. My child certainly had expectations this morning. I kind of just threw mine out the window today, but I’m not mad about it. I’m actually quite peaceful.

Expectations can often dictate the day. Mine always have coffee in it. And Jesus. Beyond Jesus, everything else can flux and be unpredictable (even my beloved caramel white mocha latte!).

I want to start un-defining my day because it’s not me who really controls everything. And reasonable expectations help me chillax. When I over-define the way in which it should go: epic fail. I can strive to achieve a few things in my day, but I do not actually define it. Wrapping my head around this has been incredibly freeing.

The sidewalk I walk on suddenly got bigger, more open, and lots of room for more of Jesus and peaceful living.

Psalm 18:36, David speaking about God
You provide a broad path for my feet, so that my ankles do not give way.

Jeremiah 29:11, Jeremiah the Prophet sharing the words of God
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

 

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