Beginning the Work Again :: The Practice of Self-Compassion

Always welcome.

Practicing the invitation of self to self.

While I was attending that international gathering of spiritual directors last week, I had a chance to spend about an hour one evening with the woman who served as my supervisor while I was an intern spiritual director several years back. 

During that hour, I shared with her my present journey. 

That conversation was such an impactful one for me, as it helped me take a couple steps forward on this current healing journey. And this week, I’d like to unpack those steps — as well as some other observations that came throughout the week and as a result of the conference content — with you here, in the trust, again, that if you’re going through an intentional formation process in your own life, you’ll find these learnings helpful too. 

First, I’ll share that the conference theme was compassion. 

When I first learned this was the case, I was ecstatic. The person in me who has come to care deeply about issues of peace and nonviolence the last four years couldn’t wait to learn some new perspectives on this topic. I signed up for workshops like, “A Spirituality of Welcome: Compassion in a Troubled World,” “Forgiveness as the Restoration of Love, Justice, and Power,” and “From Enemy to Friend: The Inner Work of Peacemaking.” I couldn’t wait to load up my mind and heart with more resources in order to further equip my feet to keep walking this path of compassion, nonviolence, and peace.

But when I registered for the conference, I didn’t know that by the time I reached St. Paul for the gathering several months later, I would primarily need to experience the conference theme through the lens of self-compassion more than anything else. 

Embracing self-compassion in this new place, I’ve been finding, is hard.

And when I met with Kay for that hour-long conversation we shared in the lobby one night, I told her so. “The first time I went through my intentional formation,” I told her, “I was fierce about it. Stubborn. Not one person could talk me out of it. I sat down and determinedly told God I wasn’t going to get up until I learned what I needed to learn.” I walked a journey that has unfolded for 15 years, and the continuous unfolding of this story I’ve lived is precious to me.

I couldn’t seem to access the same kind of fierceness and solidarity toward this new part of my journey. Yes, I am doing the things I know I should be doing. Yes, I am committed to walking the process. But my heart hasn’t been fully in it. 

More than anything, I’ve resented this new turn in my journey. 

I looked at Kay that night in the lobby and said, “I don’t know how to be fierce about this. I don’t know how to muster up the fierceness. I don’t know how to get firmly on the side of this part of my story. I don’t know how to stop pushing it away, just wishing it wasn’t there.” 

And then, through the course of that conversation, I found help in doing so. 

It came about — not surprisingly — through an image. When I look into my mind’s eye at the time in my life I’m revisiting through this new part of my journey, I can see myself so clearly. Fifteen years old. Long, curly brown hair. Thin. Wearing comfortable 26-inch 501 jeans and a scratchy, dark blue fitted blouse. White canvas shoes. A quiet way of inhabiting my life. 

I can see her. Me.

In that moment in time, I see that 15-year-old me walking into my bedroom. It’s the afternoon hours, and I’ve recently returned home from a day of high school. I’m walking into the room as if to put something—my journal, I think—down on my nightstand, or perhaps I’m coming to retrieve it. Whatever the case, I seem to be entering the room with purposefulness, and yet I can see a loneliness there. Like the girl that I was had carefully curled up inside herself but was careful not to let anyone see.

In my conversation with Kay in the conference lobby this past Friday night, I began to wonder: What if I just spent time seeing that 15-year-old me? Really seeing her? What if I sat inside that bedroom, propped up on the bed, back against the wall, waiting quietly for her return every day? Being present to her whenever she was there, even if that presence included no words at all for a really long time?

Perhaps that 15-year-old me could experience the presence of my 34-year-old self being present and a friend to her in a way she’d not yet experienced in her whole life. What might that be like? 

And I saw how the fierceness could, through that process, grow. 

Staring at that 15-year-old image of myself carries the potential to help me fall in love with her. To grow fierce and protective of her. To fight for her. To fight on her behalf.

This is self-compassion, I think. A willingness to be present to ourselves in friendship. A friendship that grows fierce.

Are there ways you might need to receive self-compassion in your own journey? Are there ways you practice self-compassion already in your life?

Be Transformed by the Resurrection

Make way for sun.

Make way for the light.

The last two weeks on the Cup of Sunday Quiet, we’ve been focused on Easter. In particular, the weekly lectio recordings that I create for that community of subscribers have centered on resurrection stories — the story of Mary Magdalene encountering the empty tomb and the risen Christ, then the story of Jesus appearing to the disciples gathered in the upper room. 

I’m being transformed by these stories. 

That’s the wonderful thing about lectio divina. It carries the power to transform. You may be listening to a portion of Scripture you’ve heard a hundred times, but you’ve never heard it in just this moment, carrying just what you’re carrying now, responding in just the way you’re moved to respond today. 

Plus, it creates room for real response. You’re invited to encounter your real heart as well as God. You’re invited to let God encounter you. 

It can be a powerful, transformative experience.

I’m away at a conference this week and won’t be posting here, but in my absence I’d like to invite you deeper into this season of Easter through these two resurrection stories. Will you make room to encounter the risen Christ?

PS: Please pardon a little bit of airplane interference in the second recording — a sometimes-hazard of living in the flight path of an international airport! :-)

PPS: To receive the Sunday Quiet mailing each week, sign up here.



Beginning the Work Again :: On Visiting the Work and Taking Breathers


Still my adult self.

Note: There won’t be new posts at Still Forming next week while I’m away at a conference. (More on this below.)

I’m noticing the importance of treating “the work” as a part of my life I visit at times designated by me. And here’s why. 

If I sit inside it all the time, gnawing at it and working on these things like a dog working a bone, totally preoccupied with sucking the marrow out of its present obsession, not only would it suck me into a huge, black, emotional, scary hole, but it would also exhaust me, and it would additionally render impossible my ability to keep doing what I do with the rest of my adult life. 

Because I am an adult functioning in the world.

I’ve done a great degree of work to become the adult I am today, and the adult I am is real and still gets to show up for the majority of my waking hours. The adult I am has been given a vocation to write and teach and lead people in this space and on the Sunday Quiet and through spiritual direction. The adult I am is in a marriage of equals. The adult I am manages a household. The adult I am runs a freelance editing business. The adult I am takes care of her body

The adult I am gets to keep living life. She doesn’t get ignored or erased or swallowed up by “the work.”

But the work must continue, too, and not be banished or repressed.

And so I visit it. I go to therapy appointments, right now once a week. I share some of the things I’m learning in those appointments with Kirk when I’m ready. I share some of them with friends during times of connection. I created a journal just for processing things related to this season, and I visit that journal when things come up and need to come out. I keep tabs on my inner world, especially when watching movies or reading books or online content that cross over the same experiences I’m processing right now, so that I know when I need to make room for feeling my response. I go to spiritual direction. 

I give this work specific places to breathe and be fully welcome. And then I keep going about my business.

It’s like these words that Jan Richardson wrote as part of a Lenten retreat she recently offered, which a friend shared with me: 

There is a time for engaging our story: for contemplating it, praying with it, doing lectio with it. There is a time for talking about our story, telling it, weaving it and unweaving and weaving anew. There is a time for reflecting and remembering. 

And there is a time for rest. 

Particularly when we are working with painful threads of our story, it can grow exhausting to be perpetually present to those threads, to be in the thick and the tangle of them. Sometimes we need to relax our hold on the threads, to lay them down for a time and trust that the Spirit will still be at work in them, and in us. Even as we seek to be present to our story—to be aware and conscious and to know who we are and how we are part of a larger story, and to be engaged with God in the creating of our own story—there may be times we need a Sabbath from our story. 

Holy absence, my spiritual director calls it. 

Not ignoring our story. Not dismissing it. But letting ourselves rest in the knowledge that sometimes there is weaving that God does only when our attention is turned elsewhere—when we give ourselves time and Sabbath and place the threads into God’s hands rather than trying to handle them all ourselves.

There’s such wisdom in her words, isn’t there? 

Speaking of taking a rest, I’ll be taking one such rest next week while attending the SDI annual conference in St. Paul, Minnesota. I’ve been invited to the conference as a guest of SDI, having been named one of their 2013 New Contemplatives. It’s an honor, truly. 

As such, I won’t be posting in this series here next week. (I will, however, continue to host the Cup of Sunday Quiet, if you’d like to sign up to receive those weekly mailings.) I’m excited to give myself the time and opportunity to live inside the profession and training I’ve received over the course of these last many years. 

How might you allow yourself intentional places to visit your own “work” right now? How might you also give yourself room to rest in such a season?

Beginning the Work Again :: A New Series



Hi, friends. 

I’m starting a new series here with a bit of fear and trembling, as it marks a decision to dive in deep and live out loud through a process of healing I’m currently living. 

I shared a few weeks ago that some as-yet-unrecognized truths surfaced in a session with my spiritual director last month. It’s wreaked a bit of havoc in my inner and outer world, and I’ve been taking intentional steps ever since to enter more deeply into those truths and surround myself with what I need to begin the difficult (and scary!) healing process. Thankfully, I have a really great support system in place that’s already helped me take several courageous steps forward and is helping me stay with this.

But here’s what I’ve noticed:

As I’ve been taking these steps, it feels so much like starting over. 

Truths I’ve learned and lived into for years now feel so far away. In certain parts of myself, I feel so much like that 19-year-old girl who first discovered she had a heart, she didn’t understand grace, and she’d been living inside some coping mechanisms that left a lot to be desired. 

When it comes to these new revelations and the work of integrating them into my life and story, I feel like I’m starting over. And I’ve been realizing that I need to teach this new and tender part of myself, step by step, the things I learned over the long-haul journey of growth and healing and new life that began for me at age 19. 

Then last night I realized: 

It might be helpful for me to form out loud through this process with you here. 

Perhaps you’ve been in this place of starting over, too — healing a fresh wound, or an old-but-feels-fresh one. Or perhaps you’re at the beginning of the journey and need some help even knowing where to start. 

In this series, I’m going to share with you my process as I’m walking through it. I’m also going to share things I learned when going through this circuitous journey the first time around. Hopefully you’ll find it helpful or encouraging in some way for your own experience. I know that, for me, it will be helpful to have a place to process the journey and “re-teach myself” things I need to re-learn.

Would you like to take this journey with me?

Woman, Why Are You Weeping?

Come to the table, where life is found.

This post is part of the Holy Week 2013 series.

I love John’s rendering of the resurrection — the way we get to read about it through the lens of Mary Magdalene’s experience.

We follow her to the tomb “early, while it was still dark” (John 20:1) and then follow her as she runs to get Peter and John to tell them the body of Jesus is gone from the tomb. After Peter and John run to the tomb to confirm it, they return to their homes, but we stay with Mary. 

It is Mary who sees the two angels: “Woman, why are you weeping?”

It is Mary who first meets Jesus: “Woman, why are you weeping?”

Then he asks her the same question he asked the guards who arrived to arrest him just days before: “Whom are you seeking?” It’s similar to the very first words John records Jesus speaking earlier in his gospel, after two disciples began to follow him. He turns around and sees them following and says, “What do you seek?” (John 1:37).

Always with the questions, this Jesus. 

I love how his questions, simple as they often are, obvious as the forthcoming answers may seem, gives each person the dignity of their response. He wants them to know themselves. 

And then he says her name: “Mary!” And she knows him at once. 

May you, too, on this Easter day know yourself and whom you seek, as well as the blessed joy of being named by Jesus.

The Body Series: Some Closing Thoughts

Meet Lottie, in all her gloriousness.

Meet Lottie, in all her gloriousness.

(Yay! I did it — I got a bike!)


We’ve sure covered a lot of ground here these last six weeks, haven’t we? 

It’s been a really different experience for me, writing a series for you on a topic I’m currently learning myself. But I’ve really valued the experience of learning along with you and sharing my thoughts, questions, struggles, and experiences with you along the way. 

As this series comes to a close, I’ve been thinking it would be helpful to offer a wrap-up on the territory we’ve covered and a bit of sharing on where I’ve landed in all this, at least for the time being. I’d love to hear where you’ve landed, too, and any changes you’ve noticed in your views and treatment of your body these last six weeks. 

So, some closing thoughts: 

  • For me, so much of the body journey has to do with getting in tune with the truth that I even have a body. I spend so much time inside my head and my heart that it’s easy to neglect the reality of my embodied self. I’ve found yoga to be a very helpful means of putting me in touch with my body, as it keeps me in tune with my breath and the movement of my body and the stretching of its muscles. Also, being outside is immensely helpful, as I notice the feel of breeze and sun on my skin, hear the birds and the wind as I walk or ride my bike, relish the brilliant colors of the sky and trees and flowers, and listen to the other sounds of life around me.
  • Viewing my relationship with my body as part of a formational process helps me be patient with this whole thing. When I think about my spiritual formation, I know that’s something that happens for a lifetime. It has seasons — times when God is teaching me one thing or another as a point of focus, and so I lean into those learning curves and allow them to take as long as they need to take. I can feel myself letting my relationship with my body take a similar course. I’m in a certain place with it now, learning certain things, and someday I’ll be in a different place, learning different things. This is a process that I’ll stay with for a lifetime. There’s no need to rush.
  • God’s view of the body as good and necessarily part of the human experience has helped remove some of my antagonism toward my body. I’m becoming more loving toward it. More welcoming of it. Viewing it as something God sees as a very good gift and opening myself to the discovery of what that gift means. 
  • One of the most profound ideas I’ve begun to carry as a result of this body series is the idea of carrying the body of Christ inside of me. This is something I’m going to continue to meditate upon. I think it will continue to deeply impact the way I treat my body, as it becomes a way of demonstrating my love for Jesus in practical, ongoing, daily ways. 
  • Lastly, it’s been so helpful for me to seek out physical activity that is simply fun. I think I’ve always assumed that exercise needed to look a certain way — either running or swimming or biking or fitness classes at the gym or using a treadmill or weight machines — and it didn’t matter whether you thought it was enjoyable or not. You just needed to do it. Blech. Now I’m coming to see that different forms of exercise work for different people. I’m finding that yoga and outdoor bicycling work best for me. Yoga is a perfect fit for my temperament, and outdoor bicycling is invigorating and fun and never fails to bring a huge smile to my face when I’m feeling the breeze and the sun and am coasting along in the beauty of the scenery. The best part is, I no longer have to force myself to do exercise I dread!

What have been your learning curves in this series? How have things been changing for you in your relationship with your body these last six weeks?

The Body Series: Caring for Our Personhood


Today, in the aftermath of a particularly tender session with my spiritual director yesterday, I’ve been feeling rather raw. Truth be told, I shed some tears while talking with a friend about it this morning, and then I sat on my couch in a bit of “zombie shock” for a while. 

This can happen in spiritual direction sometimes. It creates such a safe space for exploration and discovery that sometimes as-yet-unrecognized truths will surface and be spoken aloud for perhaps the first time ever. 

That’s what happened for me yesterday.

So today, in my zombie-shock mode, I had a hard time getting going. I have a work project I’ve been trying to finish, but diving straight into it felt like a harsh way to treat my soul — almost like saying, “You go underground now. I’ve got other things to do.”

Eventually, I decided to run a couple easy errands. Drop off some library books. Stop by the post office for mail. Stop by the bank to make a deposit. So I changed into some workout clothes, pulled on a baseball cap, and headed out the door.

It’s beautiful outside today, so I drove with my windows down and took an easy pace, still feeling mindful of going gentle with my soul. And then, once I was out and about, I remembered that I’ve been wanting to visit a local bike shop for a while now and have had trouble finding the time to do it.

So I headed over there. 

The experience of that bike shop visit was so healing for me.

It feels a bit strange to say that, but it was. The gentleman who got paired with me for the sales process was patient and kind. He listened to what I was there to do — learn what I could about what bike style might be best for me, since I’m a beginner — and took time to walk with me through the difference sections of the bike area, explaining how the bikes were different and may or may not be helpful to me.

When it came time to test-ride some of them, he was infinitely patient there, too, letting me try one after another and adjusting which bike he’d wheel out next depending on my feedback about the bike I’d just tested. He answered every single question I had — and I had a lot of them. He looked me in the eye while I spoke, and he looked me in the eye when he answered.

But even more than that was the experience I had of myself throughout my time there. 

I gave myself permission to learn. To have an opinion of the bikes I tried. To ask questions. I would test-ride a bike and think, “What do I like about this bike experience? What don’t I like? What questions do I have about it? What feels awkward? What feels right?” I gave myself permission to keep asking for a different bike when I didn’t think the one I’d just tested was “the one.” 

It felt so good to do this. So caring of my personhood.

It felt like an alignment of body and soul — taking care of them both, letting them “converse” with each other along the way. And in the aftermath of what came up for me in my direction session yesterday, as I’m feeling tender and raw, it felt like one of the most kind things I could do for myself today. It felt like an extension of what I shared here yesterday: according ourselves a measure of dignity and self-care.

Have you ever experienced something similar, where you felt like you were caring for your greater sense of personhood?

The Body Series: Do No Harm


Today I gave myself a pedicure.

It’s something I’ve been telling myself I’d do for weeks — even possibly months! — because I’m hard on my feet and have a tendency to develop callouses easily. But it takes time to care for my feet, so I’ve been putting it off. 

Just after I got started, the phone rang. It was Kirk, checking in while he was grabbing lunch. We talked for a few minutes, but then he needed to hang up and said he’d call back shortly. 

So I decided to wait on the pedicure treatment until he called back.

I sat on the side of the bathtub with wet, soapy feet and checked in on Facebook. 

There, I discovered a trail of status updates by a friend who is attending a conference that includes a panel discussion of pacifism vs. the just war theory. You may or may not know that I began studying nonviolence and peacemaking about four and a half years ago, so I was quite interested in the views my friend had begun sharing about the conference. 

And I dove right into the discussion. 

Thirty minutes later, I still had wet, soapy, un-pedicured feet.

But the dialogue had absolutely lit me up. I love thinking about nonviolence — what it means, what it looks like, how it finds a home inside our daily lives, what it means concerning the broader world, how it interacts with politics and nations and citizenship and humanity.

I sat there on the bathtub edge and connected, once again, with my conviction about the dignity of every human person, about the power of love to overcome and transform violence, about the spark of God in every person that causes me to honor them and seek to never do them harm. 

(I am by no means a guru at this.)

When I picked up the loofah and began sudsing my feet again, I kept thinking about my nonviolence convictions. And then as I rubbed my feet and ankles with my peppermint foot scrub, my thoughts turned toward the care I was demonstrating toward my feet in that very instant.

As I ran the hot water over my feet, washing the suds and pumice granules away, I began to realize something: the two — nonviolence and the body — are actually connected.

I thought: 

If I’m so keen to care for and honor my neighbor, no matter who they are, should I not also honor and care for my own body? 

Perhaps caring for the body has something to do with the “do no harm” principle. 

I’m doing my body harm when I feed it junk food. But conversely, I’m treating it with love when I feed it living foods, when I do yoga, when I take the time to pedicure my feet and them smooth their skin with lotion. 

Can I regard my body the way I seek to regard other human beings? Shouldn’t the nonviolence principle also apply to myself?

What are your thoughts on the “do no harm” principle as applied to your body?

The Body Series: Grace and Truth in the Body

Suffused with grace.

All he does is suffused with grace.

A great deal of my journey into love had to do with learning grace. I just didn’t “get” grace. Why did I need it, really? Oh, yes. I’m a sinner from birth and all of us fall short of the glory of God. We all need it. 

But truthfully? 

That didn’t mean anything to me.

I wasn’t in touch with my “sin nature,” nor was I quite in touch with my actual sins when I committed them. And I most certainly wasn’t in touch with my belovedness. 

And so during that dark season when I sat down on the ground of my life and decided I wouldn’t get up until I understood God’s love for me, it had a lot to do with learning grace. 

Do you want to know what I learned about grace? 

It meant not having to perform. It meant being accepted exactly as I am. It meant not having to watch my every single move to the left or right, constantly gauging whether it was the exact right move. It meant the world wouldn’t fall apart if I didn’t hold it — and myself — together. It meant being allowed to be flawed and still being completely loved.

It was a revelation. God’s grace covered all my “sins” — which, strictly translated, means “missing the mark,” like when you’re shooting an arrow at a bull’s eye target. I didn’t have to hit that perfectly round and narrow mark with every single move. If I “missed,” God’s grace covered the miss.

God freed me from my perfectionism. That’s what God’s grace did for me.

My prayer today.

Don’t ever deprive me of your truth. Not ever.

The reason I share this with you is because of something one reader, Katy, shared in response to yesterday’s post. She wrote: 

I think that I became more in-tune with my body when I became more in-tune with my emotions … I started paying a lot of attention to how my emotions were affecting my physical health, and how my physical health was affecting my emotions. Now I know that being sad or mad or stressed can give me stomach issues, and that eating low-sugar, high protein meals helps with my anxiety. The better I eat and the more I exercise, the better my mental state.

I read these words and thought, I need to understand that better

And the reason I need to understand it better is because my experience of increased emotional health led to gaining weight, to the point of being overweight for the first time in my life. Was I not as emotionally healthy as I thought I was? Did I miss a right turn somewhere? 

I think, for me, this has something to do with growing into a greater balance of grace and truth. 

One of my absolute favorite passages in the Scriptures is John 1:14, which says of Jesus that he was the “fullness of grace and truth.” In his being, he held them both in fullness of measure and perfection.

Grace. Truth. Together.

Sometimes I think the ongoing journey of spiritual formation can be summed up by saying it’s about growing into the fullness of grace and truth together. When I encountered my need to understand grace because the idea of it bounced off me like a ball against a wall, I was way far over on the truth side of things. I know now that I was pretty much like a Pharisee. 

And so I started to learn grace. And once I found it, I bathed in it. Soaked in it. Relished its amazing gift. Fell so in love with Jesus. Bowed down in gratitude. 

To the point where grace showed up in my treatment of my body. I savored rich foods in ways I never had before. I celebrated a lot. I welcomed the enjoyment of a good meal the way I was learning to welcome myself and those around me in full acceptance in the presence of God. 

Just like we can fill up on truth to the exclusion of grace, I think we can do the same with grace: fill ourselves up on grace to the exclusion of truth. 

But Jesus is the fullness of both. And that is perfection and glory and beauty and perhaps the real definition of love. 

On my body journey right now, I’m in the process of pulling truth back into the mix — while keeping grace alive. 

How might you describe your own body journey in the context of grace and truth?

The Body Series: What Creates Body Awareness and Body Care?


Aware of her tail

Yesterday, I invited you to share any lingering thoughts or questions you have as we’ve been working our way through this body series, and one of the responses I received came from Valerie Hess. Valerie just so happens to be one of the co-authors of The Life of the Body: Physical Well-Being and Spiritual Formation, which I’ve recommended as a resource companion to this series, and she was also one of the instructors in my graduate degree program in spiritual formation. 

Valerie asked: 

Why do you think some people have such a disconnect from their body and others are hyper in tune with it? Temperament? Training?

I love this question! And I’ve been wondering it myself.

I know a number of people who have always been active and have taken care with the food they put in their bodies, and I’ve wondered, “How did that happen?” Was it their upbringing, that their parents taught them to care for their bodies the way they do? Is it preference, that they simply love healthy food and being active? 

I think about my sister, who was always active outdoors and rough-housed her way around the neighborhood while we were kids, while I stayed nestled inside with my books, and she grew up to play varsity softball in high school. We were raised by the same parents, yet our preferences and temperament were so very different in this regard. 

I think training has something to do with it, too. One family I knew while growing up loved to play tennis together on the weekends. With regular activity and body-mindfulness rooted at the center of their family life, the children couldn’t help but grow up used to keeping their bodies active as a natural part of life and daily routine. 

Sometimes I just want to conduct informal interviews with people who are active and ask them: How did that happen for you? 

What are your thoughts on this? 

And if you’ve always had a sense of body-mindfulness or active care for your body, would you care to share how that happened for you?

The Body Series: Starting With a Root of Love

Leaf heart.

Leaf heart. 

Taken in Nashville, May 2012

A great deal of my journey into the heart had to do with learning the truth of my belovedness. This is one of those things that had me sitting down on the ground, stubborn, unwilling to get up until God taught me what it meant for him to love me unconditionally. 

Once I began to experience my belovedness and value to God, everything changed. 

I’m getting the sense that our body journeys have something to do with love, too. 

I’ve been walking around this last week or so feeling a lot less antagonistic toward my body. There’s even a sense of befriending it, like me and this body are paired up in this life as partners — that God has given us to each other. I’m feeling a greater sense of respect for it. It’s becoming an actual entity that I’m in relationship with. (And maybe at some point it will feel less like an entity I’m getting to know and befriend and respect and more like just, well, me.)

I’m finding that the more I cultivate affection for my body, the easier it becomes to take better care of it. It’s easier for me to say yes to exercise because I know now that my body needs me to move it around. And it’s easier for me and my body to become better partners in our life together as I listen to what it has to say — what it likes and doesn’t like, what makes it come alive, what makes it constrict, what makes it feel dopey and hung over. 

I have by no means “arrived.” I still sat on my mat in my yoga class this morning and felt self-conscious of my flabby arms and rounded shape. I still eat foods I know aren’t good for me. I’ve not dipped into a regular sleeping schedule of late.

But slowly, incrementally, I’m moving in the right direction. And each of those little steps feels like a partnership and an act of love.

What is it like for you to think about starting from a root of love in your relationship with your body?

The Body Series: Doing What Works for You


Taken on Captiva Island

March 2012


About three-quarters of the way through the yoga class I took yesterday, I had a bit of an epiphany. As I shared with a new friend afterward, it went something like this: 

I realized that yoga seems “meant” for me — my temperament, my pace, my way of being in life and with God, and perhaps (I’m learning) my way of being with my body. I found myself thinking that other ways of exercising have felt so harsh, and maybe that is one reason I’ve not gravitated toward them. They simply don’t fit who I am and the way I prefer to exist in the world. 

This realization came to me as I was stretching into a pose, leaning forward over my left knee while seated on the ground. The lights were off in the room, and all that could be heard was the continuous, rhythmic breathing of all of us in the room and the calming, gentle voice of our instructor, guiding us through the poses. 

This is such a place for me, I realized.

It’s quiet. Gentle. Soothing. Peaceful. Accepting. Even as it challenges me and my joints and limbs and muscles. 

When I woke this morning, I wanted to go back and do it again. 

In contrast, I’ve taken some other classes at the gym this week that haven’t had quite the same effect. The music was loud, the instructors’ voices abrasive. Sometimes there was a be as you are approach to the workout, but other times the instructions were strident and carefully defined (and usually defined well above my current ability!). 

And so this morning, as I tried yet another new class and found myself not quite connecting with it, I made a decision. There’s a way I can structure my availability to do yoga five mornings a week, and that’s what I’m going to do. It’s what I’m coming to love. I feel refreshed and invigorated and so happy after I complete those classes, so I’m going to just go with it. 

Additionally, I’m going to see what I can do to purchase a bike, and here’s why.

Last spring, I had the opportunity to stay on Captiva Island for a week with a bicycle as my main form of transportation — and I loved it! I hadn’t ridden a bike in so long, I was a bit wobbly on it at first. But soon, I was tooling around the island, taking the long way home sometimes, just because I didn’t want the ride to end, loving the feeling of the wind blowing on my face and neck and hair, a huge, invigorated smile on my face. 

About a month ago, I stopped by a local bike shop and tried a couple bikes on for size. Immediately, as I tested them up and down the street, that same smile lit up my face. I remembered just how much I loved that experience of riding a bike last year on the island. 

I’ve tried a couple cycling classes at the gym this week, and they’ve been OK. But they’re nothing like what I feel when I’m riding outside in the fresh air. 

All this to say, I’m moving in the direction of finding an approach to moving my body around that works best for me. 

What are you finding works best for you?

The Body Series: Be Where You Are

Tending Mary.

Tending Mary.

Taken at the Cloisters in NYC.


This morning I took a yoga class where the instructor encouraged us to set an intention for our day’s practice. She suggested a couple ideas for this, ultimately letting us decide what was best for ourselves, and one of the words she mentioned as a possibility was acceptance

I knew immediately it was the word I wanted to carry with me through that time of exercise. 

I was situated near the front of the room, right in front of the main mirror-lined wall. Every time we undertook a forward-facing pose, I saw myself at the front of the class with wider arms, shoulders, hips, and chest than those around me. Many times throughout the class, I couldn’t twist my body very far into a pose. A couple times, my hips blanched a bit. My foot cramped at one point. My arms and legs shook with fatigue in some of the poses. 

There were so many ways I felt tempted to feel less-than. 

Thankfully, the instructor mentioned that word again — acceptance — several different times throughout our time in the class, and I was able to come back to a place of accepting myself where I was in that moment. Taking a class. Stretching my limbs. Challenging myself a bit (and in some ways a lot!). Growing more in tune with my body a little bit every day.

I think our journeys with our bodies need to include a healthy measure of acceptance.

Earlier this week, I mentioned that this can include going gentle with ourselves in our progress — letting every tiny step forward matter and letting the journey take as long as it takes. 

I think it also includes letting ourselves be ready when we’re ready. I’ve known for nearly seven years that my body was changing from the way it used to be and required some level of attention from me because of it. But it wasn’t until last year that I felt a real openness to stepping into that journey, and it wasn’t until now that I’ve been willing to pick up some of those beginning steps from early last year and look at them again. 

We are where we are. And one of the things I love most about Jesus is that he comes to where we are and meets us there. The gospels demonstrate this truth over and over again — that Jesus meets us where we are and is infinitely patient with us there. He waits with us until we’re ready. He converses with us in our current place of being. Then he walks with us, tiny step by tiny step forward, only as we’re ready.

I love that about him. 

How would you describe where you are right now?

The Body Series: Going Gentle With It


Taking a tiny step forward. 

(Don’t those paws kill you with cuteness? They slay me.) 

One of the things I love about yoga is its be as you are approach. Several times during the class I took this morning at my gym, the instructor encouraged us to do what we could and to be content with that. She began the class with a reminder that competition — with others or even our own selves — was not the purpose of the class. She gave several alternatives for the various poses throughout our hour together, allowing us to judge what adjustments fit our current level of ability. 

It’s such a gentle way to be. 

Yesterday, a friend asked what I liked about my experience of the cycling class I tried. I told her the most meaningful part of it was the ability to be guided but to make decisions autonomously throughout the workout based on my body’s ability and readiness to try things. For instance, when we simulated climbing hills on our bikes, the instructor said the first hill should feel like a 6 on our personal scale of 1 to 10. We got to determine what a 6 felt like and adjust the resistance on our bikes accordingly. 

It was an opportunity to be in tune with my own body.

I find that I really appreciate that — especially as I’m a beginner at exercising again, and especially a beginner at cycling. 

It reminds me of what I’ve shared with you about the process of learning my heart. It took so much time. Years. Stubborn as I am, I would not let any person dissuade me from learning what I was trying to learn or from letting it take as long as it needed to take. 

I keep thinking about that heart journey as I go through this process of learning the body and then learning my body. It will take as long as it takes to become real, and that’s OK. Every step forward will be a celebrated victory, and that’s wonderful. I’ll only hold my integrity accountable to what I’ve learned thus far in the journey, and I’m completely OK with that. 

Be with yourself where you are. Learn that place. Let it become real. 

What is it like for you to give yourself this kind of permission?

The Body Series: Learning to Care for the Body

Gnarled life.

What my starting point feels like.

The revelation I shared with you on Friday has been a really big one in my progress to relate to my body in a healthier, more caring way. The idea that I can view my body’s formation in a similar way to how I view my spiritual formation … well, for a girl whose life’s work is enfolded in spiritual formation, I couldn’t ask for a more fitting “click.”

I think what’s so helpful about this is the idea that I just do my part

My part has to do with what I put into my body, how I move my body around, and how I view my body. The rest is up to God and the way God made my body to function and respond to my input on its own. It really takes the pressure off, even as it hands me responsibility in the matter. 

And so today, I tried a cycling class at the gym. It was hard, but not so hard that I had collapsed by the end of it. I ate an orange and drank water. I had some whole-grain cereal with banana for breakfast. I did our meal planning, went to the grocery store, and then had another orange.

And all the while, I’ve sought to tune into my body. The different leg muscles the cycling class worked at different times, as well as my stomach muscles. The feeling of strength as I pushed a heavy cart of Costco supplies across the parking lot. The sense that I have this body, and this body has me. Again, that everything I experience in the world and that others experience of me is mediated by my body.

This quote from Stephanie Paulsell in Reclaiming the Body in Christian Spirituality says it so well: 

“Such is the mystery of the body. Sometimes we know that we are our bodies, that our capacity for life and death makes us who we are. At other times, we feel that we simply inhabit a vessel that is inadequate to contain all that we are.” 

—p. ix–x

In some ways I am my body, and in other ways, I simply have a body. Either way, this body is a necessary part of who I am and my experience of this life. It will still be with me, in similar but different form, in heaven.

God is asking me to care for this earthen vessel. 

And so the challenge is to do so. To care for my body. To learn to befriend it. To love it, even.

How are you doing in your progress to do the same?

The Body Series: What If Our Cells Mimic the Formation Process?

Light shines through.

Body and spirit, both reaching toward light.

So, here’s the kind of person I am. 

When I tumbled down the Wikipedia rabbit hole in my workaday education about the body and nutrition, my mind started spinning on the possibility that our cells mimic the formation process that happens in our spiritual lives. 

Track with me here a moment on this. 

  • What if the enzymes our cells need in order to experience the chemical reactions that spur them down metabolic pathways mimic the work of the Holy Spirit or God’s grace in our formation process?
  • What if the choices I make every day in my food consumption and exercise mimic my participation in my formation process through the practice of spiritual disciplines? 
  • What if the outcomes of healthy body formation — health, vitality, energy — mimic the outcomes of healthy spiritual formation, which include a strengthened spirit and a greater capacity for love and good deeds?

The possibility that our body’s formation could mimic our spirit’s formation made me smile and shake my head in delight. Of course God would do that. 

Here’s a little bit more of what I mean.

When it comes to spiritual formation, I’ve written quite a bit on the principle of indirection — namely, that it is the process by which God handles our formation but utilizes our participation. We are partners in the process, and our part is to be faithful with undertaking small acts within our power, trusting God to do the parts we cannot do ourselves. (If you’d like to read more on indirection, you can find some more thoughts on this here, here, here, and here.)

I think the body’s formation might work something like that: I put certain things into my body, trusting that the mysterious work of God inside my body through mechanisms he created will bring about my growth and health. I need to do my part, and then let go, trusting that he’ll do his and that the outcome will be a body increasingly like the one he intends me to inhabit.

And so it made me ask myself:

Will I care for the formation of my body as intentionally as I care for the formation of my spirit?

Will you?

The Body Series: In Which Wikipedia Becomes My Teacher


After I had my first-ever wake-up call concerning the caloric value of various foods, I got curious. 

Reaching way back into my memories of high-school chemistry, I tried to remember what I had learned about calories. Didn’t they have something to do with joules, which had something to do with energy? And is the calorie in chemistry the same kind of calorie in food? I didn’t know. 

So I turned to the workaday teacher of all things ever: Wikipedia. 

There, I learned the calories in food are also referred to as food energy — and that when the nutrients in food react with oxygen in our cells, energy is released. 

I learned that our metabolism is what allows us to grow and reproduce, maintain our structure, and respond to our environment. 

I learned that enzymes are essential to our metabolism because without them, certain things that need to happen in our bodies will not happen of their own accord. Enzymes are required to create the reaction that’s needed to make those things happen. 

I learned that pretty much our whole body is made up of either amino acids (proteins), carbohydrates, and lipids (fats) — that they are vital for life — and so this is why we need to take these materials into our bodies: so that our bodies can be sustained. 

I learned that most proteins are enzymes which, as I had just learned, are essential for our metabolism because they create reactions our bodies need in order to keep functioning. This is why, I realized, proteins are so important to the diet. 

I learned that a vitamin is something our bodies need but our cells can’t make themselves. This is why consuming foods with essential vitamins or taking vitamins directly as supplements is so helpful to our bodies. 

I learned that proteins play other helpful roles in our bodies besides serving as enzyme catalysts in our metabolism. They also replicate our DNA, help us respond to stimuli, and transport our molecules from one location to another. These things won’t happen in our bodies if we don’t take in protein. What’s more, proteins participate in pretty much every function within our cells. 

I learned that carbohydrates do not help build other molecules in our bodies and that our bodies can obtain all their needed energy from protein and fats — although, of course, the body does use carbohydrates, when they’re present, to burn fuel for the body. Also, no carbohydrate provides an essential nutrient to the body, and our bodies cannot metabolize all forms of carbohydrates. 

I learned that nutrients are chemicals that organisms (like us) need to live and grow. 

In other words, I learned a few things:  

  • If I want to live and grow, I need nutrients. 
  • Some nutrients won’t be produced by my body all on its own, so I need outside sources (like certain foods and vitamins) to get them.
  • Protein is especially important to my diet because it is involved in pretty much everything my body needs to do, not the least of which are the chemical reactions that make up my metabolism.
  • I need to care about my metabolism because it’s what allows me to keep functioning in all the ways I’m meant to function in the world (growing, reproducing, maintaining a bodily structure, responding to my environment). 
  • Carbohydrates are the least essential part of the human diet (at least, from what I can tell).  

All of this led me to think some more about formation, which I’ll share more about with you tomorrow … 

The Body Series: Yes, We're Going Into the Science of It


So, here’s the next stone that emerged in my wondering whether our bodies are meant for formation, just as our souls are: the science of it.

In December, a friend posted a question on Facebook, asking for health-related recommendations. Overwhelmingly, her friends recommended an app called My Fitness Pal, which allows you to track your intake of calories each day. 

Curious, I downloaded the app and started playing with it, filling in what I’d eaten that day. 


It had been (what I thought was) a “light” day for me in the food department — just coffee and a few cookies for breakfast, a Triscuit snack for lunch, and mac and cheese with some sausage for dinner. But those foods I believed to be hardly anything pushed me about 1500 calories over what the app said my daily caloric intake goal should be.

I was pretty stunned.

Over the next few days, as I continued to log my food intake on the app, it was so interesting to learn about the distribution of calories in various foods. Foods like cucumbers, carrots, hummus, and broccoli had hardly any calories at all. Putting creamer in my coffee shot its calorie count much higher than drinking it black. Sausage, cream cheese, cookies, and Triscuits were pretty high in the calorie department. 

It felt like scales were falling off my eyes. 

I’m not scientific at all, and the whole rigamarole of calories, fats, proteins, and carbohydrates have always felt like running blindly into a wall for me. It’s just never made sense or clicked in any meaningful way for me. But here, in black and white, through an app that had pretty much every food you could think of stored inside its database, were numbers that showed me, in small and large amounts, what I was putting into my body. 

This led me on a bit of a scavenger hunt by way of Wikipedia, which I’ll tell you about tomorrow … 

The Body Series: To Each, a Unique Shape

Dusky beauty.

One of our readers here, Ree Ann, shared some thoughts in response to yesterday’s post that I’m finding helpful and encouraging, and maybe you will too. 

She said: 

Because we are born into sin and because we each have our sins to deal with, there are (because this word will carry my point) deformities in our souls that need even more of God’s grace and our best attempts to learn what we are able to do to cooperate with Him so that our souls become as perfected as possible before it is our time to cross to the other side.

So it is with our bodies, as far as I can tell. One of the reasons that best portrays this, for me, is the differences that are in each body when it is born. There is the incrdible range of what we would describe as “perfect” bodies to deformities that make it nearly impssible to live at all and the whole range between.

What I see because of this is that as we become cognizent of the states of our bodies, we need to educate ourselves about the best care for them and ways of maintaining them and making them as healthy as possible.

God provides us each with a body. There is much to learn about how to relate to them. We must pay attention to our body language…pains, imperfections, conditions, diseases.

What I gather from Ree Ann’s comment here is the idea that every body is unique, just as every soul is unique, and that we need to “learn” our unique body, just as we “learn” our unique soul in our process of formation. 

When it comes to soul-level formation, each person has glory and, well, fallenness. It is the original glory God is seeking to restore in us in ever-greater measure, and it is the fallenness in us that God is seeking to burn away. What those look like for each one of us is unique, even as there are general truths to be known about each that apply to everyone.

So, perhaps, it is with our bodies. 

There’s a natural truth to the way the body works, but the way that nature plays out in each individual body is different. Due to genetics and environment, some have a faster metabolism and some have a slower one. Some are disposed toward exercise, having been trained in it from an early age, and some aren’t. Some are lactose-intolerant, and some aren’t. Some have a gluten allergy, and some don’t. And on and on and on.

Part of this process is learning our unique bodies — as well as the natural order of things — as we grow in relationship to our bodies and the way God intends us to live inside them. 

What do you think of this idea?

The Body Series: Considering Our Roots

Life abides.

One of the most helpful places to start in a series about the body is an assessment of our relationship with our own — and particularly the earliest roots of that relationship.

What are the early roots of your relationship with your body?

Here are a few of my own answers to that question, and I encourage you to share your answers (if you’d like) in the comments: 

  • Given the choice to be outside or inside, I would choose inside 100 percent of the time. While my siblings rushed to play outdoor games with the neighborhood kids, I preferred to sit in a chair in the living room with a book and read. I was not disposed toward physical activity.
  • In addition, I wasn’t very good at physical activity anyway. Three years of city softball and only hitting the ball once — not to mention getting hit in the nose with a softball during a pre-game practice — didn’t bolster my confidence in my body’s attunement to sports. I felt disqualified from anything having to do with athleticism.
  • My sister, on the other hand, was a natural-born athlete. She loved scraping her knees and making a mess, and she proudly identified as a tomboy. I, on the other hand, preferred to stay clean and tidy, and I certainly wouldn’t go for anything that might lead to scrapes or bruises. I was the bookworm; she was the athlete. Somehow those clear lines comforted me — made it easy for me to keep saying no to exertion.
  • I had a sweet tooth growing up. (I still do.) The kind of sweet tooth that would find me unable to finish my dinner but always save room for dessert. The kind of sweet tooth that had me refusing to finish my dinner, even, unless the dessert option made it worthwhile. The kind of sweet tooth that had me scooping quarters and dimes from my dad’s coin jar so I could walk to the store and buy candy after school. And since I could eat anything and still remain stick-thin, I came to believe that eating junk food in no way impacted my body.
  • What’s more, I seemed to have a different body type than most people in my family — one that followed the small-boned, no-curves pathway of my dad’s mother — which I came to believe would insulate me from body issues the whole of my life. Even though I didn’t “develop” much once I hit puberty, I felt pretty lucky to be as thin as a beanpole, wearing sizes 0, 2, and 4 all the way through college and beyond.

Not believing myself athletic, not enjoying athletics, eating whatever I wanted without consequence, and believing my body type to be immune from weight gain set me up for this: a whacked-out view of my embodied self. As I shared in a post last year on my personal blog, I truly believed my body to be an object that was supposed to serve me — to make me look good and not flinch at anything I gave it to consume. 

It’s a lot to undo, and it’s led to a ton of body confusion in recent years. 

What are the roots of your body image?