Category Archives: Spiritual Stuff

What’s Saving Your Life Lately?

When I send out my twice-monthly-ish emails to subscribers, I usually close with the question, What’s saving your life lately? (Thanks for the question, Barbara Brown Taylor.)

And I love when people reply with their answers… everything from “finally feeling more human after my son’s death” to “working at a rescue shelter for cats.”

Here’s my current list, at varying levels of grandiosity. (Small things can save your life, right?)

The West Wing Weekly podcast. Nerd comfort food.

The book Challenger Deep, an excruciating but gratifying read about a young man with mental illness. Such reverence. Such

Last weekend’s run at Great Falls:


Loved ones who forgive me readily when I screw up. Bonus when those loved ones are my children.

MyFitnessPal, my constant companion to help me make better nutritional choices.

Getting the summer camp schedule mostly locked down for the kids.

The Hamilton soundtrack–the multi-layered gift that keeps giving.

A week in which the writing flowed, aka lots of sh***y first drafts.

Kitties who jump five feet in the air when birds visit our patio bird feeder. I’d say they jump in vain, but it entertains us, so they’re earning their keep around here.

Swimming, then biking, then running, for the first time in rapid succession, in anticipation of a triathlon in two weeks.

What’s saving your life?

The Five-Minute Journal, Tweaked


A few months ago I wrote about a new practice I’ve been doing–a morning journaling exercise that takes about five minutes. It’s been a great way to center the day.

Among other things, the practice involves listing three things that would make the day fruitful. I wrote: “Most of us have way more than three things on our daily to-do list, so it helps to be clear on the most essential items.”

Then yesterday I read a lovely reflection on the Storyline blog:

At the end of every day, no matter how busy I’d been, there were always projects unfinished, emails unanswered, and household chores left undone. I hadn’t done it all, so I felt like I hadn’t done enough.

And it’s only a short leap in your heart from “I never do enough” to “I’m not enough.”

I tried making really thorough to-do lists, but that just gave me a super detailed record of all the things I wasn’t getting to. I would not call that helpful.

So the author created an Enough List: three things that are enough for the day. “They don’t have to be life-changing things, they just have to be the things that are most important to me today. When I’ve done those three things, I’ve done enough.” She may do more than three things, but those extra things get to be gravy. And if she doesn’t get to the three things, there’s grace.

I like that framing even better! Enough is such a gracious word.

So here’s the improved version of my morning journal:

Three things for which I’m grateful:

My Enough List for the day:

An affirmation: 

I’m curious about:
And the evening practice:

Three things to celebrate about the day:

One thing I could have done better:

Happy journaling!

Image is “Journaling” by Seth Barber, from Flickr via Creative Commons license


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Overwhelmed? Do It Like the Looney Tunes Do

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I’ve been traveling quite a bit recently, mainly leading retreats on the Sabbath book. Last weekend was the end of a two-week stretch in which either Robert was traveling, or I was, or for a brief 45 minutes when our planes crossed in the air, both of us. It’s ironic that I’m talking to groups about Sabbath, given how hectic my schedule has been! I’m careful to take Sabbath time even when I travel–a quiet afternoon at the hotel between sessions, a trip to the movies on the Monday after my return. What suffers is the home stuff. The entropy is wild around here at Casa Dana, and that impacts my mental health.

I was reminded by someone at this weekend’s retreat of a practice I wrote about in the book but hadn’t thought about in a long time. Time to revisit it again.

Are you, too, feeling overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuff involved in adulting? Read on for a technique that’s worked for me. This is an excerpt from Sabbath in the Suburbs:

Remember those old Looney Tunes cartoons in which a hungry character looks at its prey and sees a juicy steak where the head is supposed to be? Or when the guy who’s down on his luck finds a singing frog and begins to see dollar signs?

I try to do the same thing with the clutter and piled-up projects in our house. Rather than looking at an unfinished task and seeing what we’ve failed to do, I picture what that unfinished task represents: namely, something important that we have done.

So when I look at our cluttered garage full of broken rakes and household items we’ve discarded but haven’t yet gotten rid of—some of which have been with us for years—I try not to see our failure in getting the garage cleaned out. Instead I see all those times we pedaled bikes up and down our street with our kids, gasping to reach the top of the steep hill, then soaring down to the bottom again.

Every time I open the cabinet under the sink, I see a mess of bottles, desiccated sponges, and aluminum foil. For nine years they have begged for an intervention from the Container Store. I try to see something else instead: I see Caroline hunched over a ball of yarn and a chaos of stitches as I teach her, slowly, to knit. With this new vision, the undone thing isn’t a sign of neglect or failure. It’s a testimony that something else is more important at this moment of our lives.

Even if you don’t observe Sabbath, a shift in perception is helpful. It doesn’t ever all get done. We need to train our vision. We see failure when we should see alternatives. Better to focus on the good and important things we did do instead of berating ourselves for falling short of an ideal.

Robert’s grandmother remembers a time when her children were young and a fussy neighbor wrinkled his nose at the bare patches of grass in her yard. “You really ought to do something about that,” he said with disdain. She responded, “I’ll grow grass when I stop growing children.”


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Image is from Humans of New York on Facebook–a friend sent it to me this week, and it felt very Sabbath-y.

The Power to Laugh

Here is today’s entry in Reflections for Lent, a free e-book available to Blue Room newsletter subscribers. It’s not too late to get yours! Subscribe here.

The Power to Laugh

Romans 5:1-5: “Hope does not disappoint us…”

Professor Tom Long tells a story about the civil rights movement, how the Ku Klux Klan would often march down Auburn Avenue, the African-American center of Atlanta. Each time the residents would see the Klan coming, they would draw their shades, lock their doors, and cower in their homes until that parade of evil was over.

But then, in the fullness of time, civil rights started to take hold. Just when the tide was starting to turn, when people could finally see justice on the horizon, the Klan marched once again down Auburn Avenue. But this time the people lifted their window shades, threw open their doors, stood on the sidewalk, and laughed, and laughed, and laughed…

And the Klan never marched down Auburn Avenue again.

Maybe you’ve known people who’ve worked tirelessly for justice and peace, sometimes over a period of decades. The ones who persevere are the ones who bring to their work a sense of lightness and an appreciation for life’s little absurdities. These folks are not beaten down by the discouragement that change comes only in tiny increments, if at all. Instead, they are almost fizzy in their joy. Such is the nature of hope.

Lent has a reputation for being a grim season. Certainly the cross is no laughing matter. But even with its vigorous self-examination in the shadow of the cross, we can’t forget that Lent is moving in the direction of redemption. Let us be detectives for joy in a world that can often be drab and colorless.

Loving Creator, help me take your call to discipleship seriously… which sometimes means taking myself lightly.


Photo credit: “Amazing Laughter” sculpture by Yue Minjun, photo by Matthew Grapengeiser and used via creative commons license.