My Middle-Way Manifesto

by Kari

If you struggle with extremes, if you have tendencies to lean toward an “all or nothing” posture in life, then I encourage you to check out Holly’s recent posts on seeking the Middle Way:  A Surprising Life Ambition and To All Those Wishing for a More Courageous Life. Her writings truly challenged me as I struggle, probably just like you, to live a beautiful life in the middle where opportunities are abundant and risky. As I have meditated on this theme and sought God on this matter I have designed my own Middle-Way Manifesto based on John 15.

cgrape / Pixabay

A – avoid extremes at all costs, it only leads to isolation and judgement.

B – be alert and pay attention to the voice of Christ in me, in others and even in the world.

I – initiate vulnerable conversations with safe friends and with Christ himself.

D – D.O.T. is my cue to myself: Don’t-Over-Think. Instead, practice positive and productive self-talk.

E – everything is going to be okay and I will still stumble, fumble, and bumble along imperfectly and I’ll get back up, with Christ, and everything will be okay.

 

To All Those Wishing for a More Courageous Life

By Holly

skeeze / Pixabay

We say that people who “live on the edge” are brave.  Crazy.  Dangerous.  (In a good way.)  Part of us wants to be more like them – take bigger risks, accomplish amazing feats, not worry so much.  And other parts of us resist, criticize and dismiss with comments like, “I could never…” and “Why would you…”

Newsworthy life-threatening tricks aside (think tightrope walking over Niagara Falls or leaping across skyscrapers), true courage is found in the space between the edges.

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If courage is made of some element of risk, where is the courage in chasing the “security” of perfection or promotions?   What is brave about not starting because, “what if it doesn’t work?” or (perhaps even worse), “what if it does?”  Where is the risk in self-protecting under the guise of busyness?   What is daring about excusing both our inaction and our indulgence with varying doses of “self-grace”?

The more I practice living in the middle, I see that all that stuff on the left and right is full of attempts to control, avoid and do everything BUT take chances.

Forty years of pendulum swinging have taught me that it takes courage to stay in the middle.  To stay away from control or giving up when your job security is suddenly pulled out from underneath you.  To remain in the middle’s painful-but-necessary feelings instead of comfy self-protective pride and resentment in the midst of betrayal.  To flow in faith’s lightness when your kids aren’t doing what you want, money has a grip on you or the grass looks greener in another city, state, job, or church.

It takes more courage to stay than to cling or resist.   We already know how it feels to (attempt to) control outcomes and people and even God.  We know what it feels like to give up on someone or something, to hold ourselves back from pursuing our dreams, and to justify our every move with stuff that makes sense and sounds good.

But avoiding these extremes and staying in the middle?  We don’t know how that’s going to feel.  Letting go enough to “let God” but not enough to give up, facing and feeling pain enough for healing to take place but not so much that we become perpetual victims, parenting with arms open wide enough for our kids to be their own people but not so much that there are no expectations?  How will that look and feel?

The mystery is in the middle.  It’s where the unknown lives and it’s what God invites us to breathe in.  It’s where the ashes are the beauty, death is the life, and struggle is the joy.

It is when we choose the unknown – that scary, mysterious, messy, life-giving middle – that we choose courage.

Happy Mother’s Day, Father

by Kari

Happy Mother’s Day yesterday to all of our mom readers! I hope your day was filled with celebration and pampering.

As I laid on my back porch I was overcome with thanksgiving and joy as I thought about the ways my Father is such a good Mother.

 

Unsplash / Pixabay

Unsplash / Pixabay

Happy Mother’s Day, Father

nape of my neck is caressed
by a wind, gentle and strong
with precision, care, intent

My Father is close, like a Mother, incredibly kind

sun rays heat my palms
energize my abdominal core
and colors my cheek like a kiss

My Father is life-force, like a Mother, imparting vitality

the breeze feels heavenly
from many directions does it come
converging into delightful whirls

My Father is here, like a Mother, steadfast in storms

distant winds applaud
Maker of heaven and earth
in symphonic tree-top chambers

a wisp of cool wind
tussles my hair
a smile breaks over my face

My Father is playful, like a Mother, gleeful with joy

rocks, dirt and wood
undergird my frame
I feel grounded, safe and sound

My Father is stable, like a Mother, prudent and sure

clouds move overhead
blue skies appear
though my eyes are still closed

My Father is imaginative, like a Mother, gracefully creative

as the sun shines down
the Father, in His everywhere
has taken such good care of me

 

 

A Surprising Life Ambition, On My 41st

By Holly

All those years while working part-time and navigating early motherhood, I thought my life was balanced.  I practically bragged to anyone who would listen about how lucky I was to be a mom with a job I loved away from home three days each week. And a dream of a babysitter.  It looked, sounded and felt like the perfect solution to the mom vs. career battle within me.

Unsplash / Pixabay

But it wasn’t balanced.  When your work is your obsession, it doesn’t matter how many days you are home each week.  While your body works in the kitchen, plays at the park, or hosts a playdate, your mind rehearses the next difficult conversation you need to have with an employee or composes the email you wish you would have written.

I wish I could say that work is the only obsession I’ve ever had.  But my tendency to fixate is pervasive.  In my college years, I spent so much time working out in the gym that a professor called me into his office and gently suggested that maybe I should consider exercising a little less.  “Don’t you think,” he asked with just the right mix of concern and sarcasm, “1000 calories on the stationery bike might be a little overkill?”  I knew he had a point.

At 41, I’ve given up my pursuit of the balanced life.  Maybe my obsessive ways have led me down path of defeat one too many times.  Keeping life’s teeter totter in the air is not how I want to live.

This is why, on my 41st birthday, I declare a new life ambition:  to live in the middle.  To find that fulfilling flow between the extremes of perfectionism and apathy, and to stay there.  This is how I see it:  We all tend to live toward the right or left of middle.  On the left, we avoid, escape, freeze and self-sabotage.  On the right, we obsess, overdo and perfect.  And the middle remains a mystery.  

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Not surprisingly, one extreme creates the opposite extreme.  We work to utter exhaustion, then become productivity-paralyzed by stress and fatigue.   We try so hard to control a relationship that it completely collapses.  We go through life wasting our energy swinging from one extreme to the other, all the while missing out on the middle.

Buddhists call it “the middle way.”   Christians refer to it as the narrow gate and the easy yoke.  The Chinese name it the tao.  Whatever words are used, it’s the idea that there is a space – somewhere in the middle – where we can flourish.  It’s the notion that we don’t have to oscillate from good feelings to bad ones or from control to letting go; instead, there is a both/and place where the messy and the beautiful were meant to coexist.  Where we are meant to exist.

In the middle, we:

  • Embrace work with dedication, not obsession
  • Exercise for health instead of numbers
  • Parent with influence, not control
  • Love with openness instead of fear
  • Consume with purpose rather than escape

Staying in the middle means reeling myself in from the tantalizing sea of control, perfection and overwork.  It means holding boundaries that keep me out of resentment and allow me to accept help.  The middle is where letting go happens, creativity flows and there is space for my soul to be filled.

And so I wonder if, at the very end, the good life is being able to say, “I stayed in the middle.I found my flow there, took chances and flourished.I stayed away from fear’s paralyzing edge on the left and obsession’s self-destruction on the right.
I forged a path less traveled –
the middle path.”

A Letter to My Fear

By Holly

kimheimbuch0 / Pixabay

Dear Fear,

I know you mean well and you’re always coming from a good place.  But intentions aren’t everything and we’ve got to talk.

You and I go way back. So I am just going to say what I need to say.

First, I think you need some boundaries.  You have this way of seeping into parts of my life where you just don’t belong.  You show up in my thoughts about myself and sneak your way into the stories I make up about what others think of me.  You have this uncanny ability to color how I perceive both my past and my future (it’s actually quite impressive albeit not the least bit helpful.)  Your convincing voice even weaves its way into the highs of my life, trying to squander joy with “what if’s” or steal away success with “bet you can’t do it again.”  This fluid presence of yours has got to stop.  It’s not working for me.  Respectfully, I ask you to take a step back and let me handle my self-talk and future on my own.  Let me experience the highs of life without your intrusion.  I just need you to stick to what you do best: protection.

Before I go on to my next request, let me take a break and give you kudos for your breadth of talent.  You’re a master persuader and an expert at disguise.  I can’t help but stand in awe of your ability to play so many roles at once, to change from one costume to another in a snap.  You never tire or give up.  And you’re not afraid to try new things.

But, for a such a diverse and well-rounded little thing, when it comes to your vocabulary, you seem a little stuck.  Do you know you use the same three words over and over again?  Don’t, can’t, stop.  I guess what I’m saying is, you only speak negative.  Do you think you could work on learning some new words?  Maybe at least one or two that lean toward some positivity?  For example, remember when I decided to call myself a writer?  You kept saying things like, “You can’t do that!  You’re a __________.”  (physical therapist, middle-aged mom, business woman, left-brainer – you had no problem filling in that blank.)  Then, when I did it anyways, you came up with a million reasons why I should stop.  And you still try to get me to quit every other day (your persistence at work!)  I’m pretty sure I would ask you to come around more if you opened up a bit and tried out some words with some daring momentum instead of all these ones that send me into questioning spirals.

My dear fear, I do appreciate all that you are trying to do.  I wouldn’t want to live my life without you.  As you know, I am not one of those people who tries to live fearless.  I think we can work this out – you can help me be better and I can do the same for you.  I hope you can hear the respect and love in my words, not just my frustration, and know that I need you just like you need me.  I promise to listen when you have my best interest at stake.  And I believe we can move forward together in a healthy way – taking risks within reason and trying new things that will stretch us but not destroy us.

With a confusing mix of respect, admiration and exasperation,

Holly