pick one thing

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When our oldest daughter Carlen was 4 or 5 years old, a friend gave us a timely book to help us teach her about cause and effect. The book was called What If Everybody Did That? The premise of the book was showing a child moving throughout a day making seemingly insignificant actions and the repeatedly asked question was “what if everybody did that?” Then on the following page, the fallout was shown of the same action performed by many people.  Throwing a banana peel out the car window seems minor until the entire city begins to throw their trash willy nilly.
Picture mountains of garbage causing traffic to come to a halt. This book evoked plenty of giggles but the point was cemented in our minds, our small actions matter whether individually or collectively.

I unplugged last week for a few days. I found myself feeling overwhelmed by each email bearing the subject line of “our response to COVID-19”. Every email was well-meaning but when amassed it became daunting.  So when emails begin piling up in our inboxes one by one they sidle up next to the stress already present inside us. Because when our senses are lured to a solitary topic, our emotions follow and grow.

We are beginning another week of isolation and the needs around us are most likely going to continue to increase. My suggestion is to pick one thing in the various areas of your life right now to lessen the potential of being overwhelmed.

As life would have it, I have had plenty of home alone time since Thanksgiving, thanks to leaving a job. I knew that particular time was to be about resting and healing and slowly looking for work. But a small corner of my mind started compiling a list of ALL the things I could do with this new unassigned time. I could repaint our kitchen, organize decades of photos or reorganize ___________. 

But I soon realized, rest and being uber-productive aren’t very compatible companions. Now that I do have actual companions during the day and night, it becomes even more important to choose areas that breed peace to me and those who suddenly surround me.

I want to suggest that you don’t have to achieve or accomplish anything monumental during this time. Your most important assignment is to find ways to navigate this segment of time as best and right as you can. We are not the same, possess the same personalities or preferences but collectively, none of us have encountered this newfound reality before, let’s tread gently. 

Since I have had a little head start, this is what picking one thing looks like for me now:

For my body, I am taking a walk outside every day. Yes, I would love to try every online exercise workout currently available for free, but for now, I am keeping it simple. Also, my personality is the pick too many good things and because of all the choices, I don’t start anything. 

For my mind, I am taking five minutes before I go to bed and writing in a journal about what the day was like, what I did and how I am feeling. The other day, I might have rejoiced about beating Caleb at backgammon. I have forgotten to journal once already. It’s an intention, not perfection.

For connection, as part of my morning practice after my devotional time, I am writing a card to a loved one. 

For others, I purchased a gift certificate from a business I fear will not survive. There are countless ways I can give and there will be more ways I will give or help in the weeks to come but last week, I picked this one way. 

For my home, I will clear the weeds along the fence and plant nasturtium seeds.

For my people within my walls,  I will love and care for them well, however, that may look on a given day.

For my people outside my walls, I will check-in frequently via all the wonderful ways technology allows.

For those I encounter outside, I will smile at them.

Yes, I said pick one and I have listed eight. I have picked one thing in the areas of my life I want to nurture during this time. However, you might pick as your one thing to: 

Meditate every morning. 

Listen to music while cooking dinner. 

Endeavor to look for something beautiful every day and list it. 

Create a bracket of picture books by reading two a day and determine the champion as a family. 

Learn to say I love you in different languages and reflect on the people with this tongue. 

Take a nap every day. 

Read a poem at night. 

Blow bubbles at sunset. 

Read a psalm.

Learn a joke and tell someone. 

Complete a crossword puzzle every morning.

Start bird watching.

Watch no more than an hour of news.

Limit scrolling your devices.

Watch the flames in your backyard fire pit or fireplace.

Reread a favorite book.

Paint your nails a color you normally wouldn’t. Be bold, you are not in public.

Share never told stories with those who are living in your midst.

Fill an egg carton with dirt and plant some seeds, let each day be numbered by growth.

Print out these coloring pages by one of my favorites and color something gently humorous.

Pick one thing which can provide an anchor during these challenging times. 

What if everybody did that?

We might just create a mountain of peace, joy, and love. 

mantras

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A week ago, two beloved friends came to visit.
The four of us met when all but one of us was in physical therapy school in Minnesota. Carl and I had been married three weeks before the program at Mayo began.

When we learned of the possibility of a visit during their travels, my whispered mantra was “calm your crazies!”

I have a tendency to shift into perfection mode when we have company. Perhaps it’s heightened now as busy schedules have caused us to not be as practiced as once upon a time. Somehow my desire to extend a welcome becomes a tangled knot of also wanting our home to resemble a magazine layout. 

Calm your crazies.

My intention was to be present and not hurry. I wanted to bask in listening and speaking words and not be consumed by the funny little idiosyncrasies of our home. I didn’t want to become wrapped up in the imagined ways our home lacks and miss the plentifulness of the precious souls in front of me. I hoped to wave goodbye without regret for a wasted time of worry when I could have savored the time with dear friends.

Calm your crazies.

So we cleaned because why would you not.

Then we allowed our emotions to bubble over with excitement and anticipation.
We have been friends for almost 34 years, all of our marriages. They were our first couple, the ones we spent nearly every non-studying or working moment together with. We share the history of unwrapping the newness of marriage and babies.
Although none of us could land on the exact amount of time passed, we believe it has been over 20 years since we had been in each other’s presence.

We collectively look older, our joints not as pliable although our minds and mouths raced with stories and questions. It was as if we stepped into our own personal time machine for about 36 hours. We all had experienced the expanse of time marching us toward middle age, raising children to adulthood and dousings of joy and sorrow. The only difference in our conversations was the passage of time, not affection or affinity. Our time apart felt like a long pause before completing a thought, a soul connection without awkward silences only reassembling of lives.

They arrived when the fear of Coronavirus was just beginning to rise. It is a strange reality to know, but not know if contact could be dangerous. We risked the possibility and maybe it was unwise but there was hugging involved. There was plenty of handwashing as well. We sided with love mingled with wisdom.

If there is one truth or anchor Carl and I have built our married life on, it’s this:
When in doubt, love more.
When we have no idea what to do, we err on the side of loving.
It’s not about being heroic, it simply makes sense to us, because love is never wrong.

The reality has arrived regarding the magnitude of this pandemic. This is fragile and new territory for us to walk through together and apart.
I hope during these first days to have my movements originate from a place of love and extend my resources outward and not corral them. I want to replace the mantra of last week with several new ones.

I will pray and laugh and weep with those who weep.

I will find new ways to stay in contact with the people I love and value in my life.

I will list the people I have lost contact with and share my affection for each one of them.


I will stay informed and maintain my rhythms and routines.


I will read books and number my blessings each day.


I will extend myself grace when I watch Netflix too much or eat something purely for comfort.


I will use technology for good and take walks to witness spring’s arrival.


I will share my disappointment with those whose plans and lives have been turned upside down with the speed of an email or news crawl.


I will refrain from assigning blame and speak words of kindness even when it is a challenge.

I will view this time as more opportunity to lock eyes with the people in my home.

I will pull out the board games and give attention to neglected areas in my home.

I will check my spirits and not forget to reflect on those beyond my walls.

I will take regular breaks from social media and the news.

I will laugh every day.

I will pray.

Above all, I will calm my crazies.

bookmarks of the past and present

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Back in December when I started thinking about writing more consistently on this blog, it was a challenge to align my heart with my mind. My heart was completely on board but my mind kept telling me to not get ahead of myself. There was a faint whisper reminding me to look at the space between my posting history if I needed further proof of my lack of consistency.

My mind has been reluctant to admit this has been a sweet surprise to have posted every Monday since the beginning of January.  My heart swells and pumps an affectionate response of knowing it was always possible.

I thought from time to time, I would share an update or another thought related to a previous post or a short tip for living a slower life. These posts will be shorter in length and perhaps give the writer and the reader a little breather (wink).

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On Wednesday I finished the book from last week’s post. I choked up several times while reading the last several pages.  For those non-book enthusiasts, I won’t write at length about how the sentiments of happily ever after felt more applicable upon book completion. 

Last week, I was reminded of a piece I wrote for an online writing class I took in 2005. I started this blog the following year. I posted those words as my first attempt to share with others. So much has changed in 15 years but so much has remained the same. I am including a paragraph excerpt without revising it. There are sentence fragments and during this time, I loved using the ellipsis. Because this is my writing from the past resonating with the present.

There are many times that I feel as if my bookmark has fallen to the ground.  I scramble to pick it up as if by simply holding it in my hand, it will magically replace itself.  I rifle through the pages trying desperately to find my location. Where am I? If I backtrack needlessly, it is fruitless…territory already covered.  Lessons learned and vision restored. If I jump ahead of my place, I will only be skipping important details that are essential to any good story. Oh, it is so tempting to sneak a peek, just one juicy tidbit to keep my interest engaged, but that morsel will be all the tastier when it is revealed at the proper time.

Why had my bookmark fallen? At that time, our children were 16, 12 and 2. We were at the beginning of one of the deepest, darkest times of our lives. It was a prolonged season of loss, grief and immeasurable pain. I recall being asked to speak at church possibly in 2007 and expressing how it had been the hardest season of our lives. I would advise never saying those words because life can get even harder. The crush of those years has passed however I don’t know if anyone ever fully recovers.

I cannot count the number of people who are suffering today. They are people I know and others I won’t ever meet. To be honest, it is overwhelming. To them, life is not simply a book to be leafed through. It’s an assigned textbook too difficult to comprehend or desire reading. It’s not being able to articulate a sentence which has changed days and life as it once was. Many days, I can remember wishing to go back a few chapters, before our narrative changed.

I weep with you today. 

One hard reality I remember during our times of trial was how some people will come close and others will withdraw. Pain is uncomfortable. I will confess to wanting to help others but also not wanting to hover or intrude. I have learned drawing near even in silent presence is always better than quiet from a distance. 

I extend my arms toward you today if you are in a hard place. 

If no one knows your pain, text a trusted family member or friend. Don’t live in silent pain.

If you know someone in pain, reach out even if you feel you don’t have adequate words or might say the wrong words. Presence wins over perfection every time.

If you feel you have no one who can share your pain, my email is on the sidebar. 

You are not alone.

 

happily ever after

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Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

Have you ever waited for something?

Maybe this is a ridiculous question because of course, our days are filled with waiting. We wait for the dryer to buzz to begin folding clothes. We wait at stoplights and in rooms designed for this sole purpose.  We wait for results and answers and solutions.

But I am referring to the big and exciting category of waiting, like a trip or a Broadway show. Maybe it’s to hold the keys to unlock a new home or to land a dream job. Or repeatedly checking the mailbox for tickets to watch a favorite team or band and then waiting to take an assigned seat.

For me, it was a long-awaited book. I know, perhaps I need to work on larger dreams. But in my opinion, books are a reason to celebrate.

I had been waiting to get my hands on the latest book by an author whose debut novel had consumed a few days of my summer eight years ago. I couldn’t contain my anticipation to experience the next world she would conjure from the weavings of her imagination.

Once the book was in my hands, I quickly gazed at the beautiful dust jacket and then removed its folds to expose what laid beneath, black woven fabric embossed with gold letters and designs. I fanned the pages, careful not to reveal any clues and marveled at the intricate care and thought behind the book’s assembly. Newly released hardcover books can feel like an investment but I immediately felt the worth of this book, a gift.

It would be a safe bet to envision my next scene, sitting in my favorite chair with the book spread over my lap and a cup of tea by my side. However, this particular time, your wager would be wrong.

I finished gushing and placed the book next to my chair and later in the evening, I took it downstairs to my to-be-read shelf.  I visited this book often as I grabbed any other book but it from my shelf in the following weeks. 

Somehow the build-up in my mind about this book felt paralyzing. What if this book wasn’t all I had hoped it would be? I mean, what if I didn’t even like it? 

When I finally took the book off the shelf at the beginning of February, my fears weren’t relieved. The plot was slower developing than I anticipated and at times, I was confused. I couldn’t immediately figure out what was happening or how certain characters connected or were they? I was interested but I didn’t feel immersed in the book. I was impatiently waiting for an instant pay-off and craving fore-knowledge of an enjoyable reading experience.

The book is just shy of 500 pages and at nearly 200 pages in, I realized, I had two choices. I could abandon the book or slow down and trust the author. 

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I have grown accustomed to holding my breath.

Sometimes I am waiting to be thrilled and other times to be disappointed. 

I create scenarios in my mind that rarely materialize.

In fact, when I spend an inordinate amount of time dwelling on these possibilities within any given day, I neglect to sink into actually living within the designed mystery of each 24 hours.

I want the revelation of the future or the unraveling of an ending in advance and this mindset shields my eyes from the present. 

I want to know how my life and the lives of the people I love turns out. 

Perhaps this is merely an introvert’s struggle but, I have secretly longed for parties or gatherings to be over in order to know a good time was had. Did I find someone to talk to and avoid feeling awkward? Did my presence matter? This is a guarded way of living because it robs me from deeply inhabiting each moment or to allow my mind and soul to be anchored to what is before my eyes, not in a rearview mirror. It’s my grasping to control when it was never in my job description.

I only get to live the pages titled today. If I am persistently looking for the sentence,“…and they lived happily ever after”, I will miss all the preceding paragraphs. I won’t be able to comprehend the ending without the context of beginnings and middles. 

As a daily practice, I open the book of my life and lay it open before the Author and Finisher of my days, letting Him fan the pages to my occupied place. I watch as he indents paragraphs and scribes long chapters, adding every necessary comma and period. He tenderly whispers that I might not always understand how my life stacks up until I have inhabited every section of my life, maybe not until I reach the other side.  I unclench my fists to allow me to smooth each wrinkled page of this precious mysterious life I have been given.  To think, I am given a new story every day scribbled with bits of wonder in characters woven in and through the pages. 

I slow down and trust the Author.

Oh, how did my long-awaited book end? 

I will let you know.

I am still savoring it.

 

 

our bodies are truth tellers

 

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I quit my job last year.

The word “quit” has always weighed me down by the negative connotations attached to it. It’s another four-letter word to add to the list of ones to be careful not to utter too often.  It brings back echoes from school playgrounds when someone exits a high stakes game of kickball in many shades of upset as a chorus of “quitter” begins to be murmured. 

I don’t want to be a quitter. 

In fact, I have taught my children to not quit even when it’s hard.

I quit drinking coffee for over 5 years and now whenever the aroma becomes too intoxicating, I will savor a cup but not frequently. 

I partially quit drinking coffee.

I stopped eating sugar until I forgot to decline the offer of dessert. You could say I am a pro at quitting, quitting sugar.

I have definitely quit diet and exercise plans.

The majority of things I have quit have been mostly related to me.  I somehow find it easier to break my word to myself than when others are involved.

I have quit more substantial things than coffee or sweets. The job I quit was because I had quit wanting to practice physical therapy.  

Prior to last November, I had never left a job except for reasons of an impending baby or a move across the country.

When I handed in my letter of resignation two weeks before Thanksgiving, it was one of the toughest and easiest actions I ever completed.

For a long time, I pushed aside the strain my workload had on me physically and emotionally.  The repetitive nature of my daily tasks exacerbated an already degenerating neck. I spent weekends recovering enough to return to work. Sometimes it meant resting or sleeping more. Often it looked like bedtime in a recliner under a hazy combination of muscle relaxers and pain killers.

I should have quit two years earlier but I didn’t. For reasons I am still trying to unravel, despite my body breaking down, I couldn’t bear quitting a job because I felt an undeniable need to be helpful and believe I was indispensable. 

There were other factors that developed during the last six months of employment which necessitated making a decision crucial. But I wanted a plane skywriting above me with the answer to my questions about staying or leaving. Instead, my body decided to send me an engraved message.

During my last month on the job, I could barely turn my neck to the left or right. My constant golf ball-sized knot between my neck and shoulder morphed to resemble a baseball. One morning, I woke up and my right arm was numb with tingling fingertips. I unscrewed a lot of amber-colored bottles to continue to work each day.

I kept on working with the mindset of eventually leaving my position, but in the best shape possible despite physically falling apart. Whenever anyone asked me about my work situation my hand touched my temple and then my heart. My body language revealed knowledge I was too disconnected to absorb. Even in the months since leaving, I catch myself reciting a laundry list of reasons for my decision and physical pain usually is one of the last bullet points mentioned. 

I mistakenly believed hard work might entail pain. 

Pain is not normal. Although it is an unavoidable reality for many.

Pain is a warning sign.

I lived as if constant pain was my status quo. 

My physical pain began to diminish the day I gave notice. Today, my pain level is back to the baseline of 5 years ago. 

In the last several months, I will admit there have been days when I have felt foolish.

Foolish for waiting so long and quitting without a game plan. My willingness to allow a part of my body to be severed from nerve input for the sake of not giving up. I will be ruminating over this scenario until I find its core motivation.

I have always viewed quitting as bad and maybe even wrong.

How do you view quitting?

Maybe it’s time to give the word a little makeover.

I found the following chart when I was curious about the origins of the word quit.

I wondered if it would enlighten me about why the word often gets a bad rap.

I didn’t find what I expected.

In fact, what I found might make me quit more often.

 

 

 

The next time you are wrestling with a decision, practice the following steps.

Seek quiet.

Be still.

Quit (if it is the right course of action). No judgment.

You might be set free.

 

***I realized after writing this post it’s close proximity to Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season. It is a common practice to fast, cease or quit something until Easter. One of the reasons for the fasting during Lent is by emptying a previously occupied space, it allows room to focus on Jesus and His sacrifice. Many people groan when considering giving something up for 40 days and I have as well. This might help, Lent contains times to fast and feast days which land on Sundays. What a wonderful gift of balance. Perhaps think of fasting as quieting something in your life.

Quiet (quit) complaining and instead rehearse your blessings.

Quiet (quit) worrying and instead shout what you are grateful for.

Quiet (quit) criticizing and instead find one person to encourage each day.

Quiet (quit) screen time and instead take a walk outdoors.

Quiet (quit) scrolling and instead read a book or memorize a verse or poem.

Quiet (quit) having the last word and instead be the first to listen.

Quiet (quit) being homogeneous and instead, look for opportunities to meet someone who doesn’t look or think or believe like you.