Autumn Soul Care

Over the past two months (and on through November) as I head toward the release of Handle With Care, I wanted to quiet some of the unrest and unhealth in my soul. There have been some patterns of anxiety, ignoring my gut sense or intuition in favor of what seemed “right” or obligatory, and a general passive engagement with the Lord. In laymen’s terms, I was “going through the motions.” So, in true form, I sat down, made myself a curriculum, and set myself on it. It was robust, full, ordered, and I knew it would jar my spirit and soul in the ways I needed.

I know so many authors who pour their hearts and souls into their books and then into the marketing process, so much so that they’re always one step behind a burnout or selling themselves out just to get the book sold. I absolutely do not want this. I love writing and I want to write for a long time, so that means recognizing that I am not primarily a speaker or a marketer or a podcaster or an expert in any way. I am a writer. I will do my best not to sell this book, but to be faithful to what God is asking of me each day. Part of that, for today, is making sure my soul is well-cared for and not going into the release on empty.

This was a long way of telling you that I have been eye-ball deep in soul-care material this fall. All my prioritized reading is related to the care of my soul and I am not feeling one bit guilty about the pile of other books waiting to be read. I thought I’d share a few of the books, links, podcasts, and exercises I’ve been working through in this time. My homemade curriculum is 16 weeks and specifically tailored to areas where I needed to grow, but perhaps some of it might be helpful to you as well. I’m just sharing source materials below, the course itself has practices, written reflections, and writing exercises built into it as well. It has already been so hard and so good for me.

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My texts for these 16 weeks are:

Sacred Rhythms, by Ruth Haley Barton. This is my third time through her easy to read book on Spiritual disciplines and it’s my favorite Spiritual discipline book.

Who God Says You Are, by Klyne Snodgrass. My friend Mason King recommended this to me last winter as a resource for Handle With Care, but I’ve been working my way slowly through it all this year and it will probably be my book of the year.

As I Recall, by Casey Tygrett. One of the main works of the first month of this time has been working with my own memories of blessing and memories of trauma. Casey has been a good leader for me.

Holy Noticing, by Charles Stone. Again, working with paying attention to memories, histories, circumstances, and not letting those things terminate on themselves.

Soulful Spirituality, by David Benner. I haven’t gotten to this one yet in the course, but I’ve paged through it and really enjoyed The Gift of Being Yourself by Benner in the past.

The Relational Soul, by James Cofield and Richard Plass. This one has been on my to-read list for a few years now and I just haven’t prioritized it. It comes highly recommended by people I trust.

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I do not listen to many podcasts. Maybe because I am a little over-stimulated by them, or because I find it hard to follow when there are multiple voices involved. But I have really come to appreciate Adam Young’s podcast, The Place We Find Ourselves. I recommend starting at the beginning of the first seas onand working through it all slowly. It has been tremendously revealing for me in my own lack of emotional health.

I also appreciate Potter’s Inn Podcast on Soul Care. These are longer listens, so they just require more time for me.

Last week Mike Cosper released his episode of Cultivated with Chuck Degroat (who you should absolutely be reading) and I listened twice. I am deeply grateful for his work. Here are two recent posts he wrote (first and second) and a class he offers on contemplative prayer. In fact, it was Chuck’s words that helped me to realize that if I kept going at the rate I was, without stopping to care for my soul, I was headed for some destruction, either of my own or others.

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These aren’t included in my Soul Care Curriculum, but they’ve been helpful pieces or videos for me to mull on in a deeper, more reflective way the past few weeks. Perhaps one or two will bless you.

The Hazards of Online Faith Writing

On Living

Every Idle Word

What does it mean to pay spiritual and moral attention to the conflicts of our lives?

When Dreams Die

Tools for the Art of Living from OnBeing

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Finally, as I do this work, here are the two playlists I’ve been listening to:

Church in a Gym

Last night concluded a month long BURN class at our local gym. This is the same gym I’ve driven past almost every day for two and a half years and silently judged for its footprint, its Land Rovers and Lexuses (Lexi? Lexums?) in the parking lot, its fine, fruity, and fast food cafe, its families all dressed in lycra and swishy shorts filing in and out of at all times of the day and night. So posh, I thought. Turns out I’m okay with posh.

Our last exercise last night was to roll on our bellies the length of four yoga mats, one after another, without using our hands or feet. It was an exercise in strengthening our core, but mostly it was an exercise in laughing at ourselves and one another. I stood there with my laughing BURN comrades as our heads spun and stomachs lurched and looked up around me, where those not taking the class were spinning or running or climbing or grunting and all sweating profusely. What kind of strange magic is this, I thought, where we gather and look like complete fools in front of strangers? I’ve been to gyms before, sweat myself silly, felt self-conscious and weak and had to force myself to just show up. But here, for all the lycra and swishy shorts, perky behinds and sweaty middle aged men and women (with whom I am dangerously close to joining ranks), it’s like a church. Or like a church should be.

We all know we’re there because we’re weak and we can’t do it on our own. We need help. Not the help of a trainer who struts their stuff, showing off their muscles, which you too can have for the low price of $999.99, but a trainer who comes near, squats down in your sweaty waft, and says, “You can do this, I know you can.” We need the camaraderie of other sweaty weak bodies doing their best and cheering one another on when we can’t keep going. We need the accountability of buy-in, the kind of financial sacrifice that kinda hurts, but hurts so good. We need to know the same faces will be suffering through the same workouts right across the aisle from us and we know their names.

Church has not been a place where I’ve felt safe for over four years. Something broke in me when we lived in Denver and I was on staff at a hurting church. I didn’t feel safe to bleed. I was told explicitly to “not bleed on the sheep,” even while my body kept ejecting babies, while my husband was unemployed, while I was fearful of loud noises or anything that resembled a gunshot. “Don’t bleed,” I kept telling myself. “Don’t be weak. Be strong. Be a leader. Get through this.” But it turns out I can’t do that. I’ve carried my gaping wounds with me everywhere the past four years and tried to pretend I was stronger, healthier, fit for service, when the truth was I was an anxious, suspect, fearful slave.

Each time I leave the gym, heaving, sweaty, and in need of a shower or three, I think to myself, “This is why gyms become like the church to some people. Because we all mostly just want a place where we can be weak and look like fools together.” We’re not all gym rats, skipping leg day and doing bicep curls in front of four way mirrors. Most of us are gym worms, crawling on our bellies each day, unsure if we can make it, carrying with us our fears, doubts, and worries, and leaving an hour later just a little bit stronger. And some of us can’t even make it that far, so wounded by life that leaving our couch is hard and judging the gym as we drive by is easier, and I think, somewhere in there, there’s grace for those seasons too. I think God understands and created humans to want to cover our wounds, care for them until they’re healed enough to go again.

Anyway. Church can be like the gym. Most churches aren’t. If yours isn’t, maybe try the gym, and when your physical body gets stronger, maybe your spiritual body will too. I don’t know. Above all, have grace for yourself and get around people who don’t just laugh at you rolling across four yoga mats, but get down there with you and do it too.

This is an allegory. Take what you can from it, spit out the rest.

Also, here is a picture of Harper because I’m too busy sweating to take a selfie at the gym. Enjoy.

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