I’ve lived with bated breath, sat rapt at attention, clinging to my last inhale, waiting for what’s to be. Anticipation has been my oxygen, its unreliable tank shooting spurts of air, giving me just enough to just be. This is a stilted life, never fully being and never fully feeling life.
“Rhonda, why are you always so serious?” my party boy baby brother asked me almost 20 years ago at a family dinner. There was no heated talk, no refusal on my part to walk his walk, but he asked me this. I was just sitting, eating and being. He could see this, right pass my constant cool and from my lack of laughter and emotionless fits. “Why don’t you loosen up?” I was not a debater and pre-salvation would attend the same parties he would. I wanted to see what he saw, why he saw what he saw so he could help me release whatever was holding my breath.
“Serious? What did I do to make you say that?”
“It’s just the way you look.”
“So what do you think I need to do to stop being so serious?”
“I don’t know. You just need to lighten up.”
He was demanding from a point of perception that he couldn’t explain. I was desperate to understand.
People exercise to “release” pent up emotions and stressful weeks, but even in aerobics class the teacher reminds students to breathe. We even go there trying to control our breath like withholding will loosen tightened muscles and get us to move the way we desire. The teacher knows we need to breathe, ensuring our entire body gets oxygenated and moves at full capacity. This is what office workers, floor supervisors, housekeepers, managers and mothers want, to breathe when work is tough, when we can’t erase our children’s hurt, when our husbands give us the flux. We want to breathe fresh air when all is stale and stinky about. But we want to know “How do you breathe?”
For years I’ve struggled to discover what was behind my brother’s questioning, to learn why I lived with bated breath that transformed my face. How could I breathe in seemingly easy places and undisputed hard spaces, to live fully being and fully feeling?
I didn’t know how little oxygen I lived on until the day I felt my nostrils open wide, my chest move easy and I declared, “I’m not holding my breath.” I had released the roller coaster inhale to brace myself for the uphill climbs, downhill rides and twists and turns that every life brings. I was breathing easy like carefree children who know their parents will take care of their every need. I had embraced that child-like security, some months before trying Matthew 11:29-30:
Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
I cut the yoke of perfectionism and other meaningless manacles that wouldn’t let me rest until every task was complete. My daily ‘To Do’ lists turned into weeks and months and the only thing that fell apart was me. I wanted to be oblivious like the children and gracious like my husband so I shortened my daily lists and lengthened the other ones, knowing God’s yoke would guide me to get the priorities done. Wearing wrinkled clothes and eating sandwiches for breakfast never killed nobody! They have helped save me, giving me a new oxygen tank full of grace pumping a life of easy breathing.*
Take a Risk Challenge: Keep a daily gratitude journal, a list of God’s daily graces that you are thankful for. Keeping a gratitude journal is what gave me the desire to embrace Matthew 11:29-30. This helped me focus on God’s daily graces, which became bigger in my sight than my daily struggles. This was a radical act of love toward myself! I challenge you to keep a gratitude journal, a radical act of love for your soul. And tell us here on the blog in the reply section (hit the ‘conversation cloud’ or the ‘Leave a reply’ tag at the bottom of the post to leave a comment) how the journal already this week has begun to impact your life.
(I began posting My One Thousand Gifts List on my blog Musings of a (Recovering) Strong Black Woman in April 2011. The challenge came to me through the blog A Holy Experience, by Ann Voskamp, who took the challenge and wrote a book based on the challenge (the New York Times best seller One Thousand Gifts) that is changing lives around the world.)
*This post originally appeared on the (in)courage blog July 30, 2011.
My One Thousand Gifts List
Morrie, being so pleasant when at the EACH Outreach Fair I asked him where a fellow Woodside Bible Church member was
The report of serving more than 1,000 members of our community
Selling 12 books this day
Charyse doing my hair
My husband asking me to ride with him to get water and food and thanking me for coming to keep him company
Another year for my granddad
Posting three posts by noon
An in depth discipleship meeting
A visit from another family to celebrate the wife’s birthday
Tabitha caring for the children, washing my remaining dishes and entertaining my guests while I got dressed