Sometimes we don’t know how hungry we are for something else until what we consume stops satisfying.

Hi my name is Devi, and I’m addicted to distraction. If you have time to listen, I want to tell you a story about why I started meditating.

I still remember in 2014 spending an hour crying in my car because of something I needed to deal with and when I finished, I picked up my phone and scrolled through Twitter in the Lidl parking lot for another hour. There were parts of my life I could not look at. I didn’t realize this because for years I thought it was my phone habits that were the problem. It is easy to notice the way social media, apps or games keep our attention, but it was more than screen time. Focusing on my tasks during the day was difficult, I often wanted to escape normal down time that I typically enjoyed, I couldn’t sit for long periods of time to work on a task. My mind wandered when I listened to a long sermon or podcast. There was a current of unease that flowed through me on regular weeks, on holiday, and during my time alone. It took several years, but I slowly uncovered why I liked being distracted.

I liked parts of my life unexamined.

The truth is it had been several hard years, and when hard years go on and on, we develop coping mechanisms to get through the days. It’s almost like I broke my leg but kept walking without having it assessed and put in a cast. My distractions were the good-enough limp that kept me from the doctor.

So I paid attention when I saw that Michelle DeRusha had a book coming out called True You: Letting Go of Your False Self to Uncover the Person God Created. What connected with me when I read True You was the idea of Japanese open pruning, a metaphor Michelle works with throughout the book. She writes:

When a Japanese gardener ‘prunes open,’ he or she cuts away not only dead branches and foliage, but also a number of perfectly healthy branches that detract from the beauty inherent in the tree’s essential structure. Pruning open allows the visitor to see up, out and beyond the trees to the sky, creating a sense of spaciousness and letting light into the garden. It also enables an individual tree to flourish by removing complicating elements, simplifying the structure and revealing its essence. The process of pruning open turns the tree inside out, so to speak, revealing the beautiful design inherent within it. Sometimes the process of pruning open requires a major restructuring – cutting back limbs and dramatically altering the form of the tree – while other times, only a gentler, more subtle reshaping is necessary.

Sometimes we don’t know how hungry we are for something else until what we consume stops satisfying. This is what happened when I felt my hunger.

For a good part of 2018, this radical restructuring slowly took place in me. It was fed by time with friends, prayer, Bible verses, music, therapy and medication. There is no one-way through radical restructuring or open pruning. It’s a team effort, it takes time.

And time has a tender way of slowly revealing next steps. 

When I started reading True You a few weeks ago, meditation became the next step. Michelle begins the book by telling us about how she started taking a few minutes every day for self-directed mental rest. She sat on the same park bench daily, in the silence and started paying attention. What followed was a year of deeper processing, of uncovering layers of her own brokenness and a discovery of what God wanted to do in her life to bring healing, renewal and a new sense of purpose. I read this, and thought, I need this. Nineteen days ago I started setting aside 10 minutes a day for, what I’m calling, meditation.

This is what I did. I told my husband I was going for a walk on a Sunday morning, I walked to the end of our street where there is a bench, and I set a timer for 10 minutes. Like Michelle instructs in her book, I tried to quiet my thoughts. I listened to the birds. And I listened to where my worried thought trails took me. I heard rustling leaves, and I heard a list of what I needed to do. It was a start. I felt more relaxed after, at the very least more oxygenated. I went on to have a great day until a few hours later I had one of the melty-downest meltdowns I’ve had in a long time. Just in case you were afraid this post would say “Meditating Changed My Life.”

It hasn’t done that. But it is changing my appetites. It is changing the strength of my mind.

It is easier to switch into work mode and work less distracted. My ability to “just write” has increased.

I move through the day less overwhelmed with all there is to do and am able to do one thing at a time and not move to the next task until I’ve finished the present one.

I can quickly spot my body’s anxiety responses and speak to it with truth.

I feel physically more relaxed.

I have an increased ability to assess situations in my life – what is really happening here? What am I responsible for? Where do I need to change? Where do I need to expect someone else to change?

My Meditation Practice

I try to aim for the same time of day. I set a timer for 10 minutes, and I sit in the silence. First I see what may rise up when I settle into the time – if it is a thought or an image, I fix my mind on it. I keep my mind focused on a particular thought or image, sometimes it is a truth from the Bible, sometimes it is a truth in my day-to-day life. I breathe in for three, hold for three and out for three until I don’t need the breaths to help me focus. I have no idea if this is mindfulness or accurate meditation, but the truth is I do not care.

Ultimately this practice has been for me about establishing a habit and a mental discipline. In the same way that doing bicep curls will strengthen my arms and help me one day do a real pull up, training my brain to think on one thing and eliminate distractions is building a muscle.

My Meditation Rules

I put my phone on flight mode.

I set a timer for 12 minutes, so that I have a few minutes to settle into it. The aim is 10 minutes daily, and I know when to stop when the timer rings.

I never let myself wonder if I am doing this right. This is the one thought that I am not allowed to think, and yes, it comes up every time I meditate. That I’m doing it is more important to me than how I’m doing it.

I don’t have a place for meditation, but this is because of my life. Some days of the week I’m home with the kids, so I have to do it in the bedroom, when I’m alone I have more options of where I can do it. I don’t put pressure on myself to do it in the same place. Again, the point for me is the 10 minutes of self-directed mental rest.

If I’m alone with the kids at home, they watch something while I’m meditating because this is the only way I can guarantee 10 minutes without interruption. Of the 19 days I’ve done it so far, only one session got interrupted by a kid who needed a box of tissues. Hashtag real life.

In conclusion, friends, I am grateful for the slow ways our lives can change. I’m grateful for the resources God puts in our paths. I’m grateful for the way Truth is embedded into various corners of our cosmos, grateful that we don’t need to fear. And I am grateful for the way God made our brains, infinitely malleable, changeable, redeemable.

Now it’s your turn: What do you think about meditation? Have you tried it? What do you do to keep your mind focused and attentive? 

A few resources if you are interested in knowing more about meditation:

Has Mindfulness Supplanted Thoughtfulness? by Amy Julia Becker for Christianity Today

Feeling stressed and unproductive? Here’s how to stop being busy and be mindful instead by Gillian Coutts for Smart Company

20 Scientific Reasons to Start Meditating Today by Emma M. Seppala for Psychology Today

How I stopped fighting anxiety by Andrea Debbink for The Art of Simple

Read. Pray. Stretch. Breathe. Cook. by Andrea Lucado

Last year I misplaced a book in our house, at least that’s what I hoped. It is a copy of Thumbprint in the Clay by Luci Shaw, one that she signed and gave to me when I was at a writing retreat in 2016. It was my companion during Lent last year. I read through it slowly, savouring the words and ideas. I read it at home, I kept it in my bag, I read it in the car at school, and somewhere between getting in and out of cars and bags and bookshelves, I lost it.

This was June last year. I searched. I looked on our bookshelf, in drawers, in our bedroom and in the car. I couldn’t find it. I started praying about it and told God repeatedly how much this book meant to me, how devastating it was to not find it. I asked God to lead me to the book. Please, I begged.

Six months went by, and nothing happened. Every time I thought about it, I could feel a swell of anxiety and sadness welling up inside of me. I felt so silly for not taking better care of it. During one of the last few evenings of 2017, I went to bed with the book on my mind, asking God again for a miracle. Please, help me find this book.

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I woke up on January 1 with a long list of things to do because for the first time in years I made many, clear goals for 2018. The list is a combination of matters I want to work toward, habits I want to change, writing goals and home developments. But I will tell you that there is a fear in me when I look at this beautiful spread of plans. Dreaming is not difficult for me, but almost every year in the past few years, we had something big come along toward the beginning of the year that hijacked my intentions. Some years it was the fragility of my own mind, other years it had to do with our source of income, sometimes it was particularly difficult seasons of parenting. In March 2017, we dealt with the possibility of a family health issue that jeopardized my husband’s Australian visa application.

I had to look at the possibility of moving back to Europe, and it terrified me. When I think about 2017, my memories are lost to fear. It undid, upended, shook. Yes, there was a recovery, a solid, strong recovery, but a wound that doesn’t bleed still needs time to heal.

When I started dreaming about 2018 a few weeks ago, I will tell you that for every delicious endorphin the dreams elicited, there was another question: But what horrible thing is going to happen?

Will it be a car accident? Maybe it will be an illness for the kids? What if school is a disaster for my oldest? Is it going to be the house?

One of the gifts of these trying seasons is the way they make you stronger. One of its curses is the way it keeps you walking, furtively glancing behind.

But I made my plans, and they are that. Human plans. I made them in big picture and small with tiny pieces listed for January. Last Monday was the beginning. I was itching to start, and it felt good. I pulled Christmas chaos off our surfaces and into boxes, picked up the floors in our living room and moved things back into order.

Our bookshelves are too full, there are rows behind rows, books stacked on top of books and in front of books, but several stray books needed a spot on the shelves. When I straightened some spines that fell over to make room for a giant volume of Tolstoy, I noticed a few books tucked behind the row.

I moved the others aside, and there was my copy of Thumbprint in the Clay, its green cover catching light; God, winking at me. It was January 1, 2018.

I pulled it out, held it to my chest and cried. I couldn’t have asked for a better blessing for the start of a new year. It doesn’t take the fear away, but it anchors me in something bigger. God listens. He answers.

Ask for more.

There is no thing too small. There is no fear too trivial. There is no want too great. There is no miracle too big.

Before everything else in 2018, in all things that will come at us in 2018, when we face the world and all its pain, when we face our lives and the things we fear, in all these things, at all times: Ask for more. Ask Him for more.

Many of you long for a Christmas season away from the materialism your local shopping mall offers. I’m sharing today one of our family traditions that began in 2012 when the stories of destruction started coming out of Syria and the DRC. We were heartbroken, and didn’t know what to do. This Advent calendar became one simple response. Somehow as the years turned since 2012, the sadness in the world hasn’t changed, maybe it is even heavier. Even with the good news stories out there, I am still overwhelmed at the way our culture normalizes abuse and destruction. This little step is a reminder that we can do something every day to hold close and in our prayers the lives of those who face destruction daily. I’ve added details at the end of the post about how I made the calendar.

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Before Jesus told raging waters to be still, before he fed 5,000, before the blind saw and the lame walked, before there were prostitutes, tax collectors and fishermen, before the nails and the whips and the thorns, before all of this, he was a baby, he was a child.

What is he thinking about when he looks at the children of the world today? Does he remember what it was like to be hungry, naked, tired, afraid?

Come to me, all of you, Jesus would say, just as he said 2,000 years ago, Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. 

When grenades fall in Damascus and little children fearfully huddle in apartment buildings, Jesus remembers running with his parents to hide for his life.

When little children are gunned down in a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, Jesus remembers the campaign of violent genocide Herod began after Jesus’ birth.

When there is no food to eat again and tiny tummies quake with hunger in North Korea, Jesus remembers 40 days without food and water.

When a child in Gaza prays in the night for peace, Jesus remembers being far from his true home, alone in a cold, hostile, violent world.

When little girls in Cambodia are beaten and exploited, Jesus remembers the torture of the lash and the nail driven through his wrist and the betrayal of his friends.

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He didn’t have evergreens, and there was no bunting of glass balls around the manger. Yes, he knew the safety and security of his mother’s embrace, but he didn’t know – or maybe he did, please no theological debates – that they were in a stable, stinky, dirty, dark and unhygienic in every way. His parents had very little financial provision, someone was going to try and end his life before it had barely even begun and his first two years would be spent on the run, as a refugee in Egypt.

He was a baby. He was a child. And he knows what it was like to have nothing and to be in danger, and when the chorus of cries from exploited, abused, neglected and unwanted children rise to heaven, he collects them all because he knows.

This Advent season, we are letting our cry from our corner of Australia join with theirs. As a family for the next 24 days, we will take a card a day, pray for the country and the child in the photo. It is our way of saying they have a name, their lives matter, their future matters.

I know that your life in December is already full, most likely it is fuller than you want it to be. For parents in Australia, school comes to an end, there are concerts to attend, squirrely, tired children to manage, and the end of school “look forward to.” For those of you without children or partners, you may have a big work push toward the end of the year, parties to attend, and perhaps 2017 has been too full of a year for you emotionally and physically, and December makes you feel the hustle of the past 345-something days.

This is not for everyone – the last thing any of us need is one more reason to feel like we aren’t doing enough.

But if in your spirit you’ve felt restless or sad at the thought of a Christmas like the ones in the past, maybe what you need is something like this. A space to hold some sadness on behalf of others, a place to pour out your prayers on behalf of those who suffer profound losses, injustice and abuse in our days. Prayer is my starting point for action, and it surprises me yearly what other actions end up following. What I’m trying to say is that prayer is never wasted because when we pray, we change, and prayer is never wasted because God hears (and acts).

Come thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free. From our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee. 

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The How – Simple is better

1. I went to Google Images and searched for photos of children from countries I wanted to pray for, and I also went to Compassion’s and World Vision’s child sponsorship pages and picked specific kids from places that are dear to us and also places that are facing particular challenges.

2. I printed out the photos, cut them out and stuck them on cardboard squares cut out of our old diaper boxes. You can stick the photos on anything. You don’t have to stick it on anything at all.

3. I strung the squares out on raffia, and put a numbered clothespin on each one marking the day, then I hung it up in a place where we could easily see it. This year I will keep the cards in a box, and take one out a day. I’m going to pay no attention to the numbers. Just one a day.

4. There’s no need to get religious about this – prayers aren’t long or complicated, you can do it on your own when you want to, or if you have a family, we did it at a certain time (rarely the same one), I would tell my kids daily that it was time to pray for a “kiddo in another part of the world.” We take a photo and pray for them. It takes less than five minutes. This is more about in which direction we want to orient our hearts and theirs.

This post is part of Andrea Lucado’s series, “Notes to Your Younger Self,” celebrating the release of her new book, English Lessons. It’s an honour to be part of it; this is a note to myself when I was in the middle years of university. At the end of this post, there are details about a fun book giveaway, so read on and find out how you can enter. You can also read this post at Andrea’s blog.
It was a solid concrete mass of a highway that got you there. Straight on Highway 412, a right onto Holly Street and then a slight left on West University Avenue. On the left across from the cathedral is a graveyard. Concrete tombstones dotted the green field, there were trees and a gravel path that wove between the plots. You went there to run and to think, brown and red leaves crunching under your feet in the autumn and frozen air burning up your lungs in the winter. It was a quiet place for your thoughts. No one would know about the fear, the anxieties, the despair. The graveyard was almost always empty.

University started when you were 19, a Sri Lankan missionary kid from the Philippines. Your mother hugged you goodbye on the concrete pavement in front of the women’s dorm, and you walked inside, into an American life on a small, Christian campus. There were daily classes, the all-you-can drink soda machines in the cafeteria, shopping at Wal-Mart and chapel services twice a week.

It has taken us 12 years since graduation to begin unraveling the space between the days.

Your life was going to be a mistake-free, dead straight road, heading in one direction. Jesus, heaven, peace. Was that the destination? There were visible off ramps and some detour signs, but you couldn’t possibly take a break from the straight road. If you did, you were lost with no way back. Your certainty was your security.

I see your fears, the ones that keep you inside the four walls of your dorm room. You’re afraid of making a mistake, of failing, you’re afraid of sin. Earning your way into belonging and love is the only way to satisfy your fears, but you can’t cope with the work it involves. So you wait through it. There is an unknown world of culture and calling right outside the door, and you don’t know how to navigate it. You think that by living less, by limiting your decisions, by staying safe you will keep yourself away from the unknown towns on the side of the highway.

One day you get off the straight Arkansas road, fly to the far side of the sea, travel around the world. You get married, you have children, and as the days tick over, you fight to live.

But I need you to know that there are so many mistakes, so many failures, and sin that so easily entangles, and I’m sorry, but this is life.

It is full of darkness.

You learned to fear the things that seemed big, so you stayed away from a second drink and didn’t date, but no one told you that selfishness breeds loneliness and pride only leads to destruction and your years can waste away in bitterness. You have no idea how much you will struggle to be truly honest with the man you love, how easy it is to lie about the small things, how easy it will be to not keep your word. You will not always be honest with friends, you will play a role you were not supposed to fill, and when you can’t take it anymore, you will run away from expectations you cannot meet. You will fail so many people.

Darkness will wrestle with you. It will not win, but it will be there. It has to be there. You cannot know the light until you’ve sat in the darkness.

There is a life waiting outside the highway. It will often look like a wilderness, but someone else is there. Did God grab hold of you? Did you grab hold of him? Theologians spend centuries debating how it works, and all you know is that you don’t know, but you are not in the wilderness alone.

His love and his truth remake you away from the straight road, in your mistakes and failures and sins, he is working.

It looks like asking for forgiveness. Often. You will have to learn how to belong to friends, community, husband and family, and learning how to belong to people when you make mistakes is a painful, beautiful lesson in grace. You learn that you don’t have to trust everyone, that building a friendship takes time. Endings become comfortable, you know now that not all things, not all people, not all relationships last forever.

I need you to know that the mistakes and failures lead to redemption and hope – this is the long road of wisdom and experience that you cannot see in a fall and spring semester. But when you turn around and look at the decades, you see the dead things made new, the ashes turning into beauty. It takes time for the spirit of despair to become a garment of praise.

So go ahead and live. Take the back roads and the tree-lined boulevards. Skip on gravel paths, fly down the autobahn, you cannot get lost because you don’t travel alone. He is leading you home.

Notes to Younger self growing up

Fun giveaway time!! I’ve got two copies of English Lessons to giveaway to anyone living in the US, and one copy for someone in Australia (apologies to those in Europe and Asia!). The giveaway is open until Friday, June 9.

To enter: Just leave a comment on this post and tell me, what’s one thing you would go back and say to your younger self? Please also indicate if you are in the US or Australia.

Update: The giveaway is closed, and the winners have been notified. Thanks!

When I was four-years-old, my family moved to a large house on a dirt road in a small province in the Philippines. 

The leaves of mango trees were glossy green, and coconut trees reached their branches for the clouds. On the hot days of the dry season, we felt the sweat trickle down our necks as we sat in front of electric fans. Wet season brought with it daily rain and regular typhoons, the kind that blew trees and electric lines down. Our basement would flood, and we had an assembly line passing buckets along until we emptied it. 

We told the tricycle drivers to take us to Guadalupe, and directed them after a fork in the road to go right, down a slight hill, and stop at the rusted brown gate on the right. Like most houses in the Philippines, there was a tall wall all around the property. At the top of the wall, broken glass pieces had been embedded into the cement when the wall was built, a supposed deterrent to robbers and drug addicts scaling it at night. 

To the left was our neighbour Ka Loreng who had a sari-sari store (literal translation, “variety of things” store) where people bought shampoo in sachets, candy, corn bits in little orange bags and on the hottest day of the year my mother would take us there to buy soda, which Ka Loreng poured into plastic bags. We sipped it out of straws while we walked down the road. 

Across the street was Evie and her three kids, a bit further down the road was her sister-in-law Jubi and her kids. There was a large field next to Evie’s house with corn crops and sometimes, sugar cane. 

To the right of our our house was a plot of land, and three families lived there in several ramshackle huts, in the Philippines they were called squatters. I remember the women, Nanay Ange and Teri, and a girl a little older than me, Leah. The walls were flimsy pieces of cardboard-like wood nailed together, the roofs, corrugated metal. There were no ceilings, some of the floors were long pieces of bamboo patched together, some of the floors were the earth of the ground, flattened slightly. Each hut was one room, mothers, fathers, children all lived together. There was no electricity and no running water.

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