When the Mind Won’t Stop {5 Ideas That Might Help}

For When the Mind Won't Stop

There you are, on the couch with your kids, in the stands at the game, at the coffee shop with a friend. You’re sitting. You’re supporting. You’re socializing. But you haven’t stopped.

You’ve pushed pause. Your body is still, at least enough to watch and cheer and talk, but your mind is running. Writing a grocery list. Rehashing a conversation. Remembering the mountain of laundry waiting at home for a reboot.

What’s to be done with a mind that resists the pause button, a mind that won’t stop?

Set it.

Set its direction. Set is tone. Set its limits.

Set it before it sets you. Before it sets you on a path that steals moments meant for restoration. On a path of duty rather than joy. On a path that distances you from others and even from yourself.

Setting the mind, it’s not a once and done kind of operation—not once a week, once a day, or once an hour. It’s a persistent, gentle shepherding, a returning of the mind from where it’s wandered back to where it belongs, a pointing it toward the path you want it to take rather than the one it’s used to, a cultivating of the discipline of mentally being where you are rather than back into the rigors of work or the woes of life.

And just exactly how does one set the mind? How do we shepherd it back, point it toward the path we choose, cultivate discipline?

Practice. That it takes time is unavoidable. There’s no easy plan. Here are some things that help me when I discover my mind won’t stop.

  1. Pause. Even if it’s imperfect. Open up some space for connection, for reflection, for rest.
  2. Predetermine: Often when the mind wanders it isn’t into the healthiest or holiest or even the helpful-est of places. It goes off borrowing trouble from tomorrow or dragging some of yesterday’s into today. Decide where you don’t want your mind to go. And where you do.
  3. Pray. Because what better way to renew your mind than to invite God in? Because human strength and stamina is limited and His is not. Because we can.
  4. Choose the present. Even if the present is chaotic, stressful, or even a little dull, the present is where our body resides. It’s where other folks with pulses live. It’s where our people are. Best if the mind and body reside there together, near their people.
  5. Persevere: The mind, like the body, gets stronger through use and exercise. A twenty-four hour day stretches out like a marathon course. Just as runners train the body, we who struggle to press pause must train the mind. Some marathon runners train to finish, to complete the course. And some train to win, to finish fast. None of us will finish first in a twenty-four hour day. It begins and it ends at the same time for everybody. Perhaps true perseverance is to train to finish well, not to finish first.

And you? What helps you set your mind in the direction you want it to go?

Sharing this week at Lyli’s and Barbie’s.

 

Every Day We Show Up

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Dress Rehearsals

Every Monday during the winter, I drive into town. There, twenty young actors and a few directors gather to work.

We block scenes so the actors know where they’re supposed to be, when. We practice dialogue so they know their lines and how to deliver them. We fine tune character development so they know how to inhabit their role. 

In the beginning progress is slow. Details that seemed settled at one practice get lost before we make it to the next. We forget lines and props and which side of the stage to enter from.

But week by week, little by little, we improve. The actors go where they want to end up. They say the right line at the right time. And they become the character they’re meant to be.

It’s a process.

We start with blocking rehearsals. We don’t do the scenes in the order they appear in the script. We work the scenes in an order that helps us make the best use of our time. To an observer it might look as though we’d dropped the script and are performing a mixed up story.

But observers don’t matter at this point.

We just need to figure out what’s happening on the stage: How to get from here to there. How to get the props on. How to get the set changed.

After blocking, we move to polishing. We work on getting on and off stage at just the right time and in just the right way. We work on saying our lines not like ourselves but as our character. We quit relying on scripts because we can’t use them in performance and it’s impossible to act well with a book in your hand.

A few weeks before the show, we begin technical rehearsals– bringing in sound and lights and special effects and the audio-visual crew so that it all flows together. And we continue to polish. We perfect line delivery and placement and postures. We prepare for the inevitable moment when someone will forget a line, when some prop will disappear, or break, or just get forgotten.

And then it’s dress rehearsal, probably the cast’s favorite one of all, with costumes, a dark house, and directors glued to their seats, unable to stop things and ask them to “run that one more time.” It’s the moment they’ve been working toward. They take the stage. They perform the show. Just as they’ve practiced.

When it’s over they’re tired and hungry and ready to go home, but first they sit together on the stage and we talk. They talk about how they think it went, what went well and what they hope doesn’t happen again. Then the directors and even the technical crew do they same, because it’s important to know what went right and what still needs some work.

In just over twelve hours we’ll all be back, putting on makeup and costumes, and–because they’re all teenagers–eating, rested and ready for the show.

The lights will go down. They’ll take the stage. And the show will begin.

The cliché is right. Life is not a dress rehearsal. But it’s not a performance, either. Life is living, one day at a time.

We show up for practice. We block so we know where to go, when. We polish so we know how to communicate, what we need to say and how and when we need to say it, how to make ourselves heard and how to be silent so others can be heard. We practice the technical stuff and grow more and more into who we already are.

Over and over again.

Every day we show up with what we have,  ready to do our part and do our best. Every day we block the new, polish the old, and hold an imperfect dress rehearsal for the day to come. And every day we learn from that day how to better move into the next one, how better to run the race set before us, how better to attend to and apply the Word that lights our path.

Life is not a dress rehearsal. It isn’t a performance. It’s a story, blocked, polished, and lived out one day at a time, with new mercies raining down.

And you?  What are you showing up to today? What’s it teaching?

Linking this post at Jennifer, Lyli, Brenda, Barbie, Jen and  Dawn‘s.

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Because of New Normals

On the eve of our son’s return to college when the kids were snarly and I was weepy, my husband looked at us and said, “Transitions are always tough.”

They are. I know. But I forget.

With his words barely out into the air between us, I remembered Yellowstone’s roads and the rough transition from spring-summer-fall to winter and that it’s hard sometimes to get from where we are to where we need to be. Because I see the road as a metaphor for life, remembering Yellowstone’s roads smoothed my frayed nerves and gave me perspective. And because I know that transitions the road to new normals are not only tough, they’re inevitable, and that it’s human nature to forget what we know, here’s a repost from a couple of years back.


 

IMG_1511The sun dawned in the steely sky and peeked through trees veiled by the falling snow. It had begun the night before and lingered, fine and heavy, through the day. “It’s slick,” my son told me when he returned from his mid-day Calc class. I must have looked concerned, because he amended his statement. “The roads were fine. It’s the parking lot that was bad.”

Of course the roads were in better shape than the parking lot—the DOT turns the crews loose before the first flake hits the ground. They work to keep the roads neat and tidy, safe surfaces for us to navigate between where we are and where we need to be. Their trucks and plows spread through the area with sand, salt, and blades.

The forecast called for snow in Yellowstone that same day, but there no one bothered much about the roads.

It wasn’t because of a strike. It wasn’t because of a government shutdown. It was because–with the exception of the fifty-two mile stretch of road between the North Entrance at Gardiner, Montana and the Northeast Entrance at Cooke City–Yellowstone’s roads are accessible only by snow machine during the winter.

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In spring and summer and the early months of fall, Yellowstone’s roads are just roads. They have their seasonal dangers—potholes the size of small cars, thermal mist which ices the surface on cold nights, wildlife lallygagging just around the bend—but they are roads, meant for us to drive. We belong there.

During the winter they consist of snow, groomed smooth enough by the same machines that tend to downhill ski slopes, their edges marked by tall orange stakes rather than the familiar white line. We can belong there, too, on snowmobiles or in Suburbans retrofitted with treads.

But for a few weeks in between they are roads in transition.

They’re messy. They’re dangerous. And they’re fit for neither tires nor treads.

Some of the people who live and work in Yellowstone’s interior drive them anyway—to the grocery store, to visit a friend, to their winter’s work assignment. Park employees tell tales of white-knuckled travels over slippery, snowy roads. It’s what their life requires while they wait for the snow to build up so that groomers can carve out a smooth surface for them to get from where they are to where they need to be.

coyoteonthe road

Some of ours are roads in transition.

Stretches are messy. Sections are dangerous. And sometimes our vehicle feels like no match for the way ahead.

Our kids get older and what once worked suddenly is a cumbersome, clunky way that doesn’t get the job done. Our marriages reshape themselves just as we do, and so do our friendships. Our jobs change, and sometimes even the place where our key fits the lock.

In the midst of it all, we keep going. We make our way over roads that are messy and dangerous, in vehicles that feel like no match for the terrain. We wait for the day when it will smooth into a neat and tidy surface, one that feels safe to navigate–even if only for a little while. It’s the process life requires and the way it gives for us to get from where we are to where we need to be.

And while we wait, beautiful encouragement from a Psalm of David: For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. 

No matter the condition of the road.

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And you? Are you on a road in transition today? What helps you navigate?

Falling Down In Denver

thelittlethingsOccasionally my husband’s job requires him to travel. Once in a while I tag along. He works while I spend silent hours with books. Our trip to Denver was different. He worked and I discovered HGTV.

Forlorn and neglected, my books sat in a tidy stack on the bedside stand rather than spread across the desk. My attention was fixed on the transformation on the TV screen as I watched room after room go from dull and dysfunctional to lively and livable. What were books compared to the interesting ideas I could apply to our recently moved into home?

After two days I tore myself away from HGTV’s magnetic pull and propelled myself into the blinding light of the warm September sun. I set off down the sidewalk, crossed the street, stepped over the curb, and onto the grass between curb and sidewalk. The next thing I knew, I was sprawled on the sidewalk like a chalk outline of a body at a crime scene.

A distressing reality dawned as I lay in a crumpled heap. I was on a sidewalk in front of a Wendy’s. It was the noon hour and there might have been witnesses. I needed to get up before I attracted attention.

It was too late. As I pushed myself into a sitting position, I saw him. A man was running toward me.

Running.

He was breathless when he reached me. ”Are you okay? I saw you fall down.” Great. I smiled and told him that I was fine, but what I wanted to do was find some Scout-Be-Gone spray and send him to do a good deed for someone else.

I peeled the rest of my already aching body off of the sidewalk and assured him that I was fine as I absent-mindedly rubbed the road rash on my cheek. “Oh! You fell on your face!” he exclaimed. My face smiled at him again but my mind was less gracious.

That’s when we both noticed my glasses, which had flown off in the force of the fall. He retrieved them, satisfied himself that I was going to make it, and left me to pick up the shards of my shattered dignity and limp back to the hotel.

My eye didn’t bruise too badly. The road rash was minor. My glasses escaped damage. I still had to explain it to my husband. Of course. Because he noticed. And he’s seen it before. He is, along with my parents and brother, children and friends, well aware of my lifelong tendency to tumble.

We went to dinner that night at an Italian restaurant down the road. We walked. We walked right through the valley of humiliation.

Maybe it was curiosity. Maybe it was a desire to place blame. Either way, I stopped to investigate the ground where I had fallen. I wanted to know what insidious device had thrown me to the sidewalk without time for even the face-saving parachute reflex to take over.

It was a hole.

Deep and narrow, just the size of the ball of my foot, it was cloaked by the evenly trimmed grass. It was small, but it had the power to ensnare me and take me down.

Isn’t it always the little things?

Consider my response to the kind man who rushed to my aid. Though I smiled and was externally thankful to him, internally I wanted him gone. I didn’t want his help or his sympathy. I didn’t want his presence. I didn’t want him to know.

What did it hurt that someone, anyone, knew that I face-planted on a sidewalk in Denver? Nothing but my pride. And that, my friends, is the real problem. I’d rather scrape myself up off the sidewalk alone than have witnesses to my faults, witnesses who are there to encourage and help and support, maybe even to pick me up when I fall.

I’d like to believe that if when I trip again and some gracious person comes to my aid, that I would be grateful and just a little chagrinned rather than thankless and mortified. I’d like to hope that when I take a fall in my struggle against the flesh that I’d welcome the encouragement, help, and support that a witness is willing to give. I’ll know soon enough. Trip hazards are everywhere.

Trip hazards. Sometimes we see them. Sometimes they’re a surprise. How do you respond to the people who are there to help you when you fall?

Sogreatacloud

Sharing stories this week with LyliBarbie, Angie,  Michelle, Emily, and  Jennifer.

For When It Is Dark

Trout Lake BridgeMy family doesn’t always get it right out on the trail. Just last year we made a string of blunders which led to one of our scarier wandering moments. The blunders:

  • We jumped out of the car and onto the trail after spending much of the preceding night and that day on the road.
  • We ignored how much fuel and water our bodies would require for the six-mile round trip to Harney Peak.
  • We set off at 3:00 in the afternoon on a four to five-hour hike with sunset a mere four and a half hours away.
  • We made hurry a key component of our hike’s success. Then we lingered. Twice.

It was as though we had never hiked before, especially with kids. Our youngest was a fan of neither hiking nor hurrying. Stopping for snacks out on the trail is a big deal to all three. From our stockpile of nutritionally worthy and just-because-we’re-on-vacation foods we opted to take one fun size candy bar per person. Not trail mix. Not granola bars. Not fruit. One tiny candy bar per person. My husband and I were road weary and stiff. We would not be breaking any speed records this day.

In spite of our poor planning, it was a fabulous hike. The day was perfect; the trail, lovely; and the view, beautiful. We climbed and explored at the peak before turning back to the trail, where we made the choice to, rather than returning the way we had come, take the alternate route back to the trailhead. We stood for long moments to watch a mule deer pair graze in the drying grass among the trees. As stood enjoying the view, the sky took on the melancholy look that it sometimes gets when it will soon give up the sun.

 

The sun dropped fast. Now we hurried. At least, we hurried to the extent that tired, hungry, slightly dehydrated hikers with children can hurry. As the sky darkened, our pace slowed. My eyes searched ahead for the unfamiliar trail. My steps became small and timid. Occasional holes, rocks, exposed roots and loose gravel, my nemesis under the best of circumstances, made what had been an easy hike suddenly fraught with danger. As difficult as it was to see the trail at my feet, it was impossible to see what was ahead or to the side. It was eerie and uncomfortable and made clear to me my place in the world. I was beginning to have visions of us needing to give it up and spend the night out there, huddled together on a rock for warmth, waiting for morning to continue our journey to the car. It was in this moment of desperation that my intrepid husband broke out the flashlight and two headlamps that he had stashed in his pack.

Everything changed.

Where there had been darkness, there was light, and right where I needed it: on the trail directly in front of my feet. Now, rather than cautiously putting my foot down where I hoped it could safely go before taking the next halting step, I could simply take the next step. Now my pace could match our urgency to get out of those rocky hills where the mountain lion dwells. Now I could walk with confidence, all because of the pool of light on the path.

While I don’t relish those moments in life which bring the level of discomfort that I felt that night, I do love those in which the truth of scripture intersects unmistakably with my life. This was one of those.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Psalm 119:105

What I want this verse to mean is that with the Word as a light, the road ahead as well as the landscape in every direction will be clearly lit illuminated and I will be able to see as far ahead as I would like. What my experience on the trail showed me is that this is not how it works. Such a light cuts through just enough darkness to light up the space to make continuing the journey possible. While not much, it is enough.

Just as I don’t always get it right on the trail, I don’t always get it right in my life. I have been guilty this year of forgetting our hike in the dark. I have struggled with the darkness on the path, wasting energy in a vain attempt to see what lies ahead. Worse, I have occasionally ignored the light because it was not where I wanted to walk.

I want to remember what I learned that night on the trail, to next time get it right knowing that even though I had no idea how far it was to the trailhead, what route the trail would follow, or how long we would be walking into the night, there was just enough light for each of my next steps and that I made to my destination, the trailhead. What was that journey but a long series of steps?

And what is this life but a long series of steps taken by faith?