Challenging Routines

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It’s a quiet, cold Sunday morning, and I’m sitting here in our office that is filled with natural light. I’ve brewed a strong cup of tea, and I’m ready to write.

I have had the rhythm for several months now of coming to my blog on Saturday or Sunday morning with an idea — some notes from my morning pages or an idea that’s been floating around in my mind all week long, but today I have nothing.

To be honest, I’m kind of in a covid-fatigue slump.

One day runs into another.

I spend up to 5 hours a day in a zoom room.

To fight utter lethargy, I force myself to go out for a midday walk, no matter how cold it is — and it has been cold. You should see me, I layer pants over leggings, long sleeves over short sleeves, pop a stocking cap on my head, and top it all with a robin’s egg blue parka and some winter walking boots. I put my earbuds in and listen to a podcast while I walk the 1.25 miles down the walking path to the corner and back.

Other highlights of my day include a bowl of oatmeal in the morning, a load or two of laundry some time during the day, some ongoing games of Words With Friends, and some kind of television in the evening.

I check the mail once or twice, and usually what I find is some promotional mail from a casino addressed to the former owner of the house, the weekly grocery fliers, and some kind of bill or statement.

I do yoga and write every morning and listen to my daily Bible reading on the YouVersion app followed by The New York Times The Daily Podcast almost without fail.

Day after day after day looks pretty much the same, and I must not be alone in this because last Sunday our pastor, Gabe Kasper, started a sermon series, Rule of Life , which is an examination of the current rhythms we live in and a challenge to interrogate the impact of those rhythms and perhaps switch them up a little.

Pastor Gabe cited Justin Whitmel Earley, the author of The Common Rule, who said, “We have a common problem. By ignoring the ways habits shape us, we’ve assimilated to a hidden rule of life: The American rule of life. This rigorous program of habits forms us in all the anxiety, depression, consumerism, injustice, and vanity that are so typical in the contemporary American life.”

Well, if that didn’t just stop me in my tracks. What habits have we all formed? What do we do in a typical day? What consumes our time? And how is that activity, that behavior, that habit, that rhythm shaping us?

Now I love a daily rhythm. When our children were little, I actually had a daily schedule. We had a wake up time (you will not get out of your bed before this alarm goes off at 6am), a ‘school’ time (where this teacher/mom provided intentional lessons on letters, numbers, colors, etc.), a play time (“No guys, we can’t play in the back yard at 6am. We will go out at 9), and a break time (everyone to your own spaces — we all need some time alone). Of course once they were in school, that schedule pretty much dictated our days, as work does for me now, but even when I don’t have to be anywhere, it is a rare day that I don’t have some kind of time map laid out and a list of things I want to accomplish, including the morning rhythm that gets me started every day.

But Pastor Gabe wasn’t asking me to examine my to-do list or my wellness routine, he was asking me to consider the ways I fill my time in the spaces around that schedule. How much time do I spend on my phone — yes, I do know that number because the phone tells me every week. How much time do I spend mindlessly watching Netflix or Peacock or AppleTV every night? He was also asking me to check my intentionality. How much time do I spend reaching out to friends and family members? How much time to I spend talking with my husband? How much time do I spend in prayer?

These are good questions — especially two years into Covid when most of us have binged every show on TV, we’ve become overly attached to social media, and — let’s be honest — we’re eating our meals on the couch wearing yoga pants, sweats, or pajamas. We’ve lost whole days, weeks, and months.

Time has become a very ambiguous concept — When did that happen? I don’t know, some time during Covid.

So, this sermon series is tapping me on the shoulder, saying, Hey, I know it’s been a rough go, but I think you’ve got the capacity to switch a couple things up, and you know, I think I’m ready.

Last week’s encouragement was relatively easy. Pastor Gabe asked us to consider adding a few pieces to our routines:

The first piece is daily prayer. This might seem like a no-brainer, but a habit of prayer has been a little squishy for me. I do pray. I find that my morning writing is often a prayer, or it makes its way to prayer. I also am starting to build a habit of praying when I first start to wake in the morning and before I fall asleep at night, but for all the order and structure in my life, prayer is one place that has remained more ad libbed. I’m considering that rule of my life right now as part of this congregational journey.

The second piece is weekly worship. My husband and I already have this as a rule because we love worship. It is a time of peace and healing for us — a time of community and belonging. Since the beginning of Covid, we have at times chosen to worship virtually, and we are thankful to have that option.

The third piece is monthly fasting. Now, since the idea of fasting may produce some anxiety, let me say as a former anorexic, that fasting does not need to be from food. It can be, but since this re-set for me is more about how I spend my time, I am considering a couple options — 24 hours without technology or maybe just social media or possibly 24 hours without my phone. It’ll be a challenge, so I haven’t put anything on the calendar yet, but I am thinking about it. (And now I’ve put it in print, so the likelihood that it will happen just went up a notch.)

Considering change, especially to rhythms that have sustained (or at least distracted) us during a time of crisis, is not easy. It takes intentionality. It takes a desire and a commitment to take a new way even when muscle memory wants to take the familiar route. But what might be the benefits? What might be the pay off? What might we notice if we change a few steps in our daily routine?

This morning, in the second sermon in the series, Pastor Marcus Lane said that following the Rule of Life is not a prerequisite to get to God but an opportunity to be transformed by His grace.

That’s what me might gain, friends, a greater experience of the grace of God and His transformational power.

What might be changed? What might we experience? How powerful is the grace of God?

In my experience it can turn mourning to joy, pain to healing, and despair to hope. It really can.

I might be willing to make a few changes for that. How about you?

discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily training is just slightly beneficial, but godliness is beneficial for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.

I Timothy 4:7-8

Adjusting the Routine

I haven’t been finding time to get to my blog.  Remember back in the old days when I wrote every day? When I rolled out of bed each morning, brewed myself a cup of tea, did my Bible study, then blogged?  If you can believe it, those days seem like a distant memory.  And yet, I have only been in the house by the river for seven months.

I remember my husband saying, when I had only been here for a month or so, that routines are a great way to acclimate during a transition.  I clung to my routines!  And, you know, even though life has transitioned again a bit, I have clung to many of those routines.

I still have my parade of beverages most mornings. Back in December, I did the Ultra-Simple diet, which I can now tell you started a period of time where I was almost symptom-free.  The Ultra-Simple diet included starting the day with the juice of half a lemon in hot water, a cup of green tea, and a smoothie.  I still drink all three most mornings.  In fact, I’m drinking them right now.

I still make it to the gym or do Pilates at home most days.  One of the things I have learned about auto-immune disease is that movement is crucial to well-being.  I spend a lot of time every week tending to my body.  Back when I was in middle school,  high school, and even college, I spent hours in front of the mirror trying to get my face and my hair just right. My main goal then was to look good.  Last night I spent a hour at hot yoga stretching my muscles. My main goal right now is to feel good.

I still do my Bible study more days than not.  In fact, this morning I noticed I only had two more blank pages in the Sermon on the Mount study.  My anxiety rose just a little bit because I don’t know what the battalion will choose to study next, but then I remembered that I am still working through the other book on ten weeks of prayer — it is taking me much longer than ten weeks.  My Bible study centers me, reminds me what is important, and begins my day with truth.

I still meet with my battalion once a week — my group of ladies that come through rain, snow, sleet, and hail every Wednesday morning to spend two hours studying God’s word.  These women are at the heart of my Ann Arbor community.

My routine has been a comfort.  Especially in the midst of change.

What change?  I am working more.  On average I tutor half a dozen students every week.  I may have to start blogging about my students — they are amazing.  I have a sixth grade girl who continues to amaze me as we work through vocabulary, literary terms, grammar, and analysis.  I have a 40-something RN who is studying to become a nurse practitioner; she struggles with academic language, but not with learning. I tell her something once and she has it.  I have two high school freshmen — one girl who would rather eat than study and one boy who would rather study than eat. I have twin sisters whose similarities end in their appearance- — everything else about them is different.  I have a single mom who never graduated from high school and is now enrolled in community college and working on a degree in criminal justice.  I meet them in their homes, in libraries, and in Starbucks.  I read their writing online and respond via email, Googledocs, and Microsoft Word.  This is taking a chunk of my time, but perhaps you can tell that I love every minute of it.

So, with every change comes an ex-change. Sadly, the one exchange I have noticed is that I am not finding as much time to blog.  However, I am gathering lots of material.  So, more blog posts will be coming. All in due time.

Ecclesiastes 3:1

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.

A break in the routine, re-visit

On Monday, I wrote about our recent cultural transition to social distancing in my post, Time Out. This post from January 2015, explores another time that I made a big transition.

My blender stopped working this morning. I think it got jealous of all the other items that have been leaving my house via the Minimalist Challenge and wanted to join them. It’s going to get its wish.

I filled the blender with all my healthy ingredients — almond milk, cashew butter, banana, etc. — then pressed the button that usually makes it whir and blend. Nothing. Absolutely nothing.  This happened once last week, but I walked away, came back a few minutes later, and it miraculously worked. Not today. I walked away with the rest of the parade of beverages, did my Bible study, then came back. Still nothing.

Since I moved to Ann Arbor, I have embraced routines. Ok, let me honest, for my whole life, I have embraced routines. I like repetition. I like order. I like predictability. So, I usually go through the same motions each day — smoothie, tea, devotions, writing, exercise, etc.

My husband, a teacher turned therapist turned pastor turned dean of students, told me shortly after I moved here that “routines are one of the best ways to manage a transition.” I am in the middle of a pretty significant transition — moving from working full time to not working, moving from Missouri to Michigan, moving from city living to campus living.

We all spend our lives in transition, don’t we? We transition from childhood to adolescence to adulthood to middle age to old age. We transition from single to married and perhaps back to single again. We transition from summer to fall to winter to spring. We are always in transition. Perhaps that is why we crave routine.

In the past week or so I have heard many people say, fresh from the holidays, “I am looking forward to getting back to my routine.” Our days have beginnings, middles, and ends that are largely very repetitive. We like that. So what happens when something happens to disrupt our routine?

We sleep through our alarm. The power goes out. The basement floods. We lose our job. We get sick. Someone dies. Our blender stops working. 

It’s a disruption. We have to stop in the middle of that beloved routine of ours and regroup. When we sleep through the alarm, we have to establish new priorities — shower or no shower? breakfast or no breakfast? notify the people who are waiting for us or break the speed limit to get there on time? When we lose our job, we have to reevaluate life and make some choices — find a new job? move to a new town? go back to school?

Our blender stops working and we have to decide what in the world are we going to eat for breakfast.

This morning I didn’t want to stop in the middle of my routine. I was already a little tight on time. I didn’t have a backup plan for something healthy to eat. And, guys, all the stuff was already in the blender! So what did I do? I kept moving for a bit. I went to my office and drank my other beverages, but without the smoothie, they were out of order!!!  This ruffled me a little, but I pressed on. I got through my morning email-checking and devotion-reading and checked the clock. I had to leave soon if I was going to meet my friend for a Pilates class. Should I make a bowl of oatmeal? grab a Kind bar? I thought about it as I got dressed, washed my face, and put in my contacts. I walked back into the kitchen and pressed the button on the blender one more time. Nothing. Sigh. I couldn’t just leave all those precious ingredients sitting in the blender on the countertop, so I poured them into a bowl, mashed the banana with a fork, stirred and swished as blender-like as I could, and ate that stuff with a spoon. Bam. Problem solved.

I wish all disruptions were this easy to manage, don’t you? This small disruption didn’t shape the rest of my day or the rest of my week, but many disruptions do. Some disruptions change our lives forever — an unexpected illness, a death, a global pandemic. No amount of routine can prevent such disruptions or prepare us for their impact. So, we may all of a sudden find ourselves reeling, desperately searching for something to hold onto.

When I find myself in such a position — feeling out of control and a little terrified, I return to routines — regular wake up and bed times, daily exercise, consistent food choices, and regular Bible reading and prayer.

Today, as I anticipate unprecedented uncertainty, I am thankful for my routines. Last night I set up my home office in preparation for telecommuting which begins today and lasts for the foreseeable future. More now than ever, I will return to my routines. I’ll get up at the same time, read my Bible, write my pages, practice yoga, take a shower, eat breakfast, and report to work on time just as I have been doing. Over the years, I’ve found that patterns like these provide the structure that anchors me.

Routines remind me that as sure as the sun rises each day, so does God remain the same. His mercies are new every morning.

Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Hebrews 13:8

Here’s to our health

I’m sitting here in the middle of the afternoon nursing my last cup of black tea for the next seven days.  I’m pathetic, right?

Why are breaks in routine so hard?  Why do I like things to be ‘just so’? Why am I such a creature of routine?  Why is it so hard to go with the flow?

Am I alone here?

I mean routines are good, right?  ‘The experts’ advise us to get up and go to bed at the same time every day, to eat our meals at regular intervals, to take our medications on a schedule.

But we also get advice from other ‘experts’ to vary our routine — don’t take the same route to work every day, choose from a variety of fruits and vegetables, and mix-up our exercise routine.

You could say I listen to both schools of thought– I always drink caffeine; I mix it up by choosing from either coffee or tea.

But this week, starting tomorrow, is going to be a bigger mix up than I have had in a while.  Not only am I putting all black drinks to the side, I am choosing, of my own free will, to drink things like extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice with hot water, and green tea.

In preparation for this experiment I purchased two kinds of green tea.  I have tried one, and I can honestly say I kind of like it.  It’s Yogi Green Tea with Goji Berry and my internet sources tell me that it has 52 mg of caffeine per serving!  So, guys, I won’t be caffeine-free after all!  You can send the troops home! The ‘ultra simple diet’ allows for me to have up to two cups of green tea per day.  Problem solved!!

So, see, going out of our comfort zone, varying from our routine, doesn’t have to be scary!  We can, like Miss Frizzle said, “Take chances, get messy, make mistakes!” If I weren’t willing to take a chance with this doctor and her ‘ultra simple diet’ for one week, I might not have learned that I like green tea with goji berry.  Who knows what else I will learn this week?

I am going to go out on a limb and say I probably won’t like drinking olive oil, but hey, I’ve been wrong before. After all, it’s only two tablespoons per day and you mix it with the juice of 1/2 of one organic lemon.  (I am really not making this up.)

I’ll try to bring you along on the journey this week, especially if I am thrilled and amazed by the results.  I feel  bit like a guinea pig, but it is encouraging know that I might be learning stuff that benefit more than just myself, that I’m ‘taking one for the team.’

In the mean time, I will continue my daily prayers that God would heal me completely — body, mind, and spirit — through whichever means He chooses.  I pray that for you, too.

3 John 1:2

Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health

and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well.