Take a Deep Breath….

I’ve been getting therapeutic massages for the past month to alleviate the stiffness and pain that has plagued me all winter. I have arthritis in my hip, knee, and shoulders, but walking and exercising have always been enough to keep my joints flexible and pain free. The pain began to spread in January, and my body felt like rusting metal left out in the rain. By the end of March, I knew I had to do something, but I didn’t want to go the pain killer route until trying other options.

My daughter-in-law in a wonderful massage therapist who is in business with her dear friend Braden. I decided to give massage a chance before heading to the doctor’s office. I’ve had massages in the past, but I always opted for the “feel good” Swedish or hot stone massages. I had one deep tissue massage years ago and decided it was far too painful to have another. I suppose I wasn’t ready to give up those knots 🙂

The tough winter left me desparate to be rid of the stiffness and pain, so I went to Braden and asked if she could help. She listened lovingly to my concerns and said she believed she could relieve the pain and the stiffness. She warned me that it would not be pain free or easy. I would have to be willing to endure the discomfort, stretch, and relax. I agreed, and we began the treatments the last week of March.

I got relief after our first session, but I soon learned that my muscles weren’t the only things getting a workout. Some knots were rooted in my poor posture, lack of stretching, arthritis, and an injury from an accident a year ago; but more of them came from hidden hurts that needed to come to the surface. I experienced weeping during a massage years ago and was told it was perfectly normal for massage to bring emotional pain to the surface. I went into the treatments determined to let go of all my knots and allow the healing God had in mind take place.

Braden and I prayed that God would use her hands to help me heal and that I would be able to relax and not get in the way. I have a hard time relaxing, and I’m finding that keeps me from fully experiencing much of what God has in mind for me. It is, and always has been, hard for me to be still. I realized yesterday that the choice is mine. I can relax into obedience or let fear stiffen me into stillness. With the Spirit’s help and a loving massage therapist, fear is losing its hold on me.

If you’d had a deep tissue massage, you know the level of pain released when knots are untied. Braden knew I was hurting and felt my muscle tensing when she hit a particularly painful knot in my neck. She quietly told me to take a deep breath and continued pushing on the sore spot. I wanted to tell her to stop, but I wanted healing more. I realized I was holding my breath and bracing for the pain, something I’ve done all my life. I let go of my breath and took in a long, deep breath. I was shocked at the difference it made as she worked the tension out of the twisted muscle.

God never ceases to amaze me with His powerful lessons, but the sweet message that came during my massage yesterday was one I will not soon forget. Relaxing isn’t possible in the presence of fear, but God’s love banishes fear once, and for all.

1 John 4:18 says it best.

“Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.” NLT

Love, breath, and spirit are all one. I knew that but didn’t fully know it until that deep breath helped me relax into healing on that massage table. I have been holding my breath expecting punishment all of my life. I’ve felt unworthy of love, especially God’s. I have no problem loving God and loving others. I do love and love completely. I just cannot seem to take in the love as deeply or fully as God would like. He knows love and breathing go hand in hand, so He bids me to take a deep breath and fully experience His perfect love and the love of those around me.

I am struck by the image of the bride in Revelation 21:1-6 and heard two very beautiful messages on that passage last week. My heart was broken when I saw myself as less than a beloved bride, but God made it clear to me yesterday that I have been, am, and always will be His beloved bride. Nothing can ever change His perfect love for me, but I can miss it by holding my breath and believing fear’s vicious lie that I am not a beloved bride. I plan to relax, breathe deeply, and fully experience all the love God has in store for me.

A Little Middle School Attitude

 

I taught middle school for thirty-three years and find myself wondering how I might deal with the current adult nonsense if I were back in my classroom.

The personal attacks I see on the news remind me of those I saw during my career. Attacks hurt at any age, but they are especially harmful when we are beginning to define our individuality personalities. They are devastating for those students who become the scapegoats of disgruntled gangs.

Adults are forming nasty gangs these days, and you can believe middle schoolers are paying close attention to what’s going on in this election. Families, communities, and the world are not what they imagined them to be. The small family circle and close-knit community is not as safe as they once thought. It saddens me to see adults behaving like middle school bullies because it frightens fragile folks who are stepping out of their comfort zones and exploring their world on a larger scale. It also encourages those who bully others and find name calling to be an effective weapon.

It’s hard for children to go through the transformation they must go through in middle school, but I counted it a beautiful blessing to go through that with my students. I love butterflies and used their metamorphosis to help guide students through a difficult leg of their journeys. I hope I showed them that change is worth the pain. I suppose I would tell my students today that not all adults are ready for transformation.

Yesterday, while talking with two young women who work with children in crisis, I wondered if maybe adults could use a little middle school attitude during this stressful time of change in our country. Young voters love Bernie Sanders for the same reason I love him. He has faith and believes in what he’s doing. He behaves in a way that makes us feel safe, and that’s an important quality in a leader. I know that he won’t be able to do all he wants to do if he makes it to the white house, but he has a dream.

Others have had similar dreams for change, and I loved introducing my students to such dreamers because dreamers make us want to dream. Whether in fiction or in real life, we learn that all change begins with a dream. Change may be painful, but growth doesn’t happen without it. No one understands growing pains better than a middle schooler because their bodies, minds, and emotions are growing in ways that cause them to hurt. That pain causes them to act out or speak out when they probably shouldn’t.

I had a middle school moment myself yesterday when my granddaughters were not being nice to one another. I laid down the law and raised my voice. They were going to be nice to each other in my house!! It was immature, but very effective. I apologized for getting upset with them, and told them I would love them no matter what they did or said. I also told them how much it hurt me for them to hurt each other. There is nothing I love more than watching them love each other, but there is no greater angst than seeing them argue or trade insults.

God understands my hurt because He loves it when His children get along, and it breaks His heart when we hurt each other. He could make us behave if He wanted to, but He knows that kind of obedience is worthless. It might help if we got a little middle school attitude when it comes to fairness and justice and used our adult hearts and heads to help right what is wrong. Maturity has taught me that true change cannot take place in the world until it takes place in me. Gandhi said it well, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”  

God is helping me understand this beautiful truth, but it isn’t an easy process. It involves letting go of my desires and trusting God to give me His. I cannot right wrongs or bring needed change until I find peace myself. It’s easy to storm in or demand my way as I did with the girls yesterday, and I know how to get a crowd to go along with me. Some middle schoolers find comfort when they learn they can easily control others, but they soon learn the crowd isn’t what it’s cracked up to be and will turn on you when the next bully comes along. When the tables are turned, they learn a new lesson about how it feels to be a scapegoat.  Hard lessons are necessary for all of us, but that’s what makes them stick with us and, hopefully, change the way we act or think.

Reinhold Neibuhr says it best in his Serenity Prayer:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,  

Courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.”

Middle schoolers have trouble accepting the things they cannot change, but they try desperately to change the things they can. They may lack the wisdom to know the difference, but so do we. Perhaps, we can recapture a little of that middle school attitude when it comes to changing what we can while remembering the pain of trying to fix what we can’t. Then, perhaps, we will come to that sweet place of peace that comes with the wisdom of knowing the difference. The Holy Spirit comes in very handy in that department.