gotcha

gotcha

20200325_091154

I had a dream in the wee hours of Tuesday. 

I walked into our bedroom to find Carl high atop a ladder painting our bedroom.

I was puzzled and asked him what he was doing and he insisted that he needed to get this room painted. I glanced at the ceiling and noticed large globs of paint starting to descend onto the perfectly made bed, the carpet and me. I tried to reach out my hands to catch pools of paint but there was too much for me to even help the situation.

Dreams are strange. To be honest, I don’t really like to hear other people’s dreams and I doubt they want to hear mine either. Mainly because when dreams are expressed they often become a jumbled mess to the dreamer and hearer.

I forced you to read about mine because it isn’t that complex or crazy. If I had to interpret my dream, I would venture to guess it was about the feeling of being out of control. 

They say our dreams are about what we cannot resolve during waking hours. So it isn’t surprising I woke up not feeling great, a bit nauseous. I wanted to spend the day in my pajamas. I couldn’t seem to muster up any of my “pick one thing” mojo. 

I did a little of this and that and nothing seemed to lessen the tightness in my chest or stomach.

It was pretty dark outside with all the signs of threatening rain so I decided to take a five-minute walk. An hour later and fully drenched, I felt a little better because my breathing had changed shallow to deep breaths. 

I showered and ate lunch. I sat in my living room chair and listened to a playlist of peaceful verses until I fell asleep. I know I was asleep because I was startled from slumber by my phone alerting me to a Zoom video call. I spent the next half hour talking to my daughters who are no longer live under our roof. We caught up, laughed, talked about everything important as well nothing of value. 

After our call ended, I noticed I felt lighter. I realized how much I missed seeing their faces.  I have felt this same way from text messages with friends and whenever we Skype or Zoom with my parents and brother’s family. 

*****

It’s Wednesday and I didn’t have a dream last night. But I changed my morning routine and walked first thing after a big glass of water. I need to help my body rid itself from residual anxiety and help myself breathe deeper. 

I haven’t been walking in my favorite park for the last week but instead neighborhood routes. There’s a marked difference in how walkers and joggers are conducting themselves, people are very intentional to switch sides of the street or in my case, a lot of zigging and zagging to keep safety in mind.

Near the end of my walk, a fellow walker and I attempted to increase our spacing, I  moved closer to a fence and she risked soggy socks by moving to the grass strip and as we drew closer,  I looked to the right to greet her with a smile and a waving hand, she said, “I gotcha!” with a smile. 

In two words, a stranger communicated her care for me and about our safety. Perhaps I am a bit tender right now, but those two words meant a lot in that sweaty moment.  This upside-down time of separation is brutal but it is for the greater good of people beyond our reach. It further reminded me of how although we are isolated, we are not alone. In our day to day lives, we never know what those who cross our paths are enduring. They could have received bad news or the loss of a loved one or are worried about how to pay their rent. But now when we encounter a stranger, we know they are experiencing this global pandemic alongside us plus all the weighted concerns from before the virus extending to here and now. It’s a lot for our bodies to store and absorb. 

Be gentle with yourself.

Be gentle with others.

There may be days when you lose your temper or patience.

There may be days when tears come out of the blue. I found myself tearing up while watching Top Chef All-Stars this week. The chefs were visiting small restaurants and sampling their cuisine. Sadness escaped from my eyes when I thought of so many restaurants that may be shuttered for good.

There may be days when you want to stay in your pajamas.

There may be days when you are filled with energy and resolve.

Each day is different and without a manual or road map.

Be kind to yourself.

What has helped me this past week:

  • Taking deep breaths
  • Seeing the faces of those outside my walls
  • Naps
  • Lots of water because a bathroom is always close at hand.
  • Not trying to fix the vacillating moods within my walls, mine included.
  • Documenting the day in my journal and with photos. I will want to remember this time, even the reality of recording the mundane parts of each day. There is no need to write a lengthy report, simply jot down a few sentences or an adjective rating for the day. If your planner seems neglected by less scheduled hours, perhaps use those lines to capture bits and pieces of your day. Or use the notes app on your phone.
  • A surprise book arriving in the mail. I have struggled lately to read fiction but this one has helped.
  • Watching one news program a day, listening to music and podcasts designed to bring peace not fear. 
  • Hugs

What has helped you during this time?


These mountains that you are carrying,

You were only supposed to climb.

                                           ~Najwa Zebian

 

casting all your cares [all your anxieties, all your worries, and all your concerns, once and for all] on Him, for He cares about you [with deepest affection, and watches over you very carefully].
 I Peter 5: 7 (Amplified Version)                     

 

I am forever grateful not to have to carry the weight of the world in my small palms.

 

Tyler Perry’s He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands Challenge

 

P.S. After watching this video, I seriously need to up my fingernail game!
Also while editing this post on Saturday, I saw a man standing on our sidewalk, waiting for someone it seemed. Suddenly a woman who had been out of my line of sight walked through our lawn, carrying scissors, a small bunch of the orange wallflowers blooming in our side yard and a large grin across her face. I was startled at first but as I reported this action to Carl, I realized, she simply is capturing beauty within her day.

Go forth and do likewise!

 

pick one thing

pick one thing

20200322_145033_001

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

mantras

20200315_120615

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

bookmarks of the past and present

wp-1582526744121331478786.jpg

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).

/////

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

happily ever after

photo of person flipping book page
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. 

/////

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

our bodies are truth tellers

 

wp-15824913252702040486779.jpg

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.

 

 

let your cup overflow

let your cup overflow

Blog post for slow collection

One of the reasons I wanted to write about living and moving at a slower pace is illustrated in the following hour or two in my life. It’s a small passage of time that revealed my impatience, propensity to hurry and pettiness. I could add other adjectives but, you know, I’m trying to be conscious of word count. 

During Christmas break, my son Caleb had dinner plans across the city from our home. The location of the meal was just far enough away it didn’t make sense to divvy the driving between me and Carl or to return home after drop-off only to return in short order for pick up. 

I decided to take a book, find a warm place to read and wait. I remembered a nearby Starbucks from a previous waiting scenario and was delighted to find several open chairs, cushioned just enough for passing time.

The young woman who took my tea order was cheerful and engaging.  It was hard not to notice thin raised lines running the length of her left upper arm in contrast to her right arm, a colorful sleeve of ink.  Each side a visual of pain in different dimensions. I hoped it was a testimony of inner and outer healing.

 There were several tables dotted with men in conversation and every so often another member would step across the door’s threshold, causing an eruption of laughter and welcome.

I staked claim of my seat, set my cup upon the side table situated between me and an adjacent padded chair and opened my book. 

After about 15 minutes, a man sat down with coffee and proceeded to blow his nose more than sip his drink. He stayed for about 10 minutes and was on his way. I was relieved.

Another ten minutes passed and an older man nabbed the vacant seat and spread his bounty of food and drink, covering the table. I am sure there is an associated emoji for how I eyed this action. I am sure I inwardly sighed as he buttered, torn open and crumpled his bags and liberally seasoned his food with salt and pepper. I know I snapped a discreet table photo and sent it to my daughters with a comment about the virtues of sharing space after he pulled the table towards him, almost toppling my stoppered tea. 

I resumed my reading after picking up my phone a few times to read the emoji and gif littered text responses when the man asked me if two giggling brown-faced children sitting at a high table across the cafe were mine. I replied no and pointed to their parents sitting in mirror-imaged chairs to ours. 

I set my gaze upon my book and attempted to locate my last read sentence. He continued to express his worry the children might fall if not watched properly. We conversed back and forth for a few minutes. It was harmless really. But then from what context of our conversation I am not certain, he began telling me about his great-great-grandfather and how Indians tried to take his land while living in Montana. I didn’t have a response and to be honest, I wanted the conversation to end. I picked up my phone hoping for a text to appear, informing me my time was up.

I attempted to direct the conversation to a different subject. He rose to fetch additional napkins from the counter and I took this as my opportunity to assume a forceful reading posture as if I were a superhero of the literary kind. For a small passage of time, my victory was clear as there was not a sound except for the tide of conversation, laughter, and frothing swirling about us.

My phone’s telltale ding alerted me that Caleb was ready for a lift. I told the gentleman I was heading out and the reason why I had tarried.

I gathered my belongings and stood up. 

“…but what I am afraid of, dear God, is that my self shadow will grow so large that it blocks the whole moon and that I will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing.
I do not know You, God, because I am in the way.
Please help me to push myself aside.”*

He lifted his face towards mine and asked,

“Did you have a nice Christmas?”

In as few words as possible, I answer him by telling him, I did have a nice Christmas, it was simple, quiet and lovely.

I ask him about his Christmas and hoped for an equally quick answer as my foot needed to be attached to an accelerator.

He paused and quietly replied,

“My Christmas wasn’t so good. My wife died 10 days ago.”

My mouth widens and I sit down.

For the next ten to fifteen minutes, Darryl shares about his wife, his sorrow and the pre-existing splinters within his family which would require more than a tweezer or needle to remove the nagging ache. 

My book is in my bag, my phone is in my pocket and my eyes are affixed to him. When I glance down, I reacquaint myself with the remains of his meal. Perhaps this partially consumed spread is considered dinner when a home is suddenly empty. 

I truly need to leave but how can I leave? 

My watch buzzes every so often and I know my messenger’s identity.

When it feels like the right moment, I tell Darryl my need to retrieve my son. I express my sorrow for his huge loss and the grief he must be feeling. I ask if he would like me to pray for him. It is truly all I can even think to offer. I don’t expect him to consent but he slides his hand to an open spot on the table closer to me.

In the midst of hands exchanging cash for nourishment and huddled voices seeking community, I touch the top of his hand and pray words that can only be accomplished by One mightier than me demonstrating my best superhero pose. I whisper words to the One who is always there in the midst of our darkest days, even when the world continues to spin as usual. He’s the One who knows my impatience, hustling, and inward-turning ways and tenderly offers me a seat to grace me with a better, clearer view.

When I arrive at the restaurant, Caleb is unbothered by my tardiness, figuring something important must have come up to delay my arrival. 

Caleb’s friend needs a ride home as well and as we drive the rain-soaked streets, I explain the reason for my lateness and don’t delete any unvarnished parts regarding me.

They listen in silence and I hope it’s not because they are absorbed in scrolling their phones. When I finish, they both agree Darryl had a crummy Christmas and they were glad I listened.

I am glad I listened too.

Eventually. 


*Flannery O’Connor-A Prayer Journal

boxes

boxes

wp-1581112688458617850303.jpgI have lived much of my life as if I am being measured by an invisible yardstick.

Or as if someone is looking over my shoulder assessing my days with a hefty grade book in hand.

I am prone to trip over hidden measuring tools or feel these invisible judges crowding my personal space.

Sometimes the critic looks like me.

January seemed long and February will evaporate before I fully settle into the month, I wonder how many checkboxes have already remained unchecked?

If I am honest, it is not only during the first of the year when I feel the weighted stare of my silent hovering critic.

I sense its presence whenever I have skipped a day or many days of a new yoga program, reading plan or any other task beckoning to be checked off. Studies confirm the tiny high received from making checkmarks. I love it when my to-do list is covered with the ink of completion. There’s nothing wrong to feel a sense of accomplishment when finishing a task or goal.  Yet I haven’t been able to shake the belief someone is keeping score. The tallies are designed for me as well as those persistently pulsating empty boxes.

What if I could look at the checkmarks and empty boxes as not successes and failures but as evidence of a full life?

What if I didn’t equate an empty checkbox as a lack of discipline or motivation but as the result of different choices or a change in priorities within a given day?

My days can no longer be measured by subtracting unfilled boxes from checked ones.

Or submitting to an imagined taskmaster by stacking today’s unmet expectations and adding it to tomorrow.

What if I could look at the hollow between the box’s four lines and view it not as a prison of judgment but as a swollen square of grace?

More than a week of February has passed and I might only be a few days into a yoga practice started on the 1st, there is no finger-shaking allowed from a bossy judge or myself.

I won’t combine missed sessions into one super-sized one to be proven acceptable and caught up. I will simply begin again because if perfection is the only way, I might never unroll my mat.

How can you make peace with the inevitable empty checkboxes this week?

let your life simmer

let your life simmer

edgar-castrejon-xPPoMWL4r_A-unsplash

There were two people who found love and married.

They added two daughters and a son to this wedded union.

Now there were five.

They didn’t know what it would be like to be married for 33 years when they entered their first year of marriage.

Now they do.

They didn’t know what it would be like to have a daughter then another and after many years later, a son.

Now they do.

They couldn’t imagine the teen years when those babies were teething. Or any of them reaching adulthood when they were taking their first steps.

Now they do for all but one.

What I know now is I couldn’t have imagined those future ages because they were meant to be a mystery. They were meant to be a fleeting ponderance reminding me to live in the moments placed before my eyes. I wasn’t called to lament over not having a single idea how I would teach a child to drive when they hadn’t learned to roll over. It was futile to worry about college acceptances before they had mastered the alphabet.

What I know is God has equipped me for each and every day of my life as well as my children’s. The hard part is He hasn’t promised endless days to any of us.  But He has promised to deposit what we need. God reminds us to reside in today not tomorrow.

Think of today as a simmering pot and each passing day adding another necessary ingredient. When we examine the length and breadth of our days, how much richer the view of the future when we have given our attention to this gift.

*****

For roughly 14 years, our family was comprised of five people, the Original Five. Whenever I wondered who was coming to a particular gathering, it was easiest to tally the Original Five. However, in the last few years, as the people my children love and are attached to expanded so did the number of expectations, logistics, and complexities when approaching special events and holidays.

Important days carry an added weight of tradition. Traditions can be one of the most emotional aspects of a family. Decision making can feel peppered with booby tracks when some members bank on a heavy dousing of tradition and others are fine with a sprinkling.

Personally, I wait all year for Christmas Eve. I love watching a dark church sanctuary slowly fill with candlelight, a loving embrace that the Light of the world has come, God with us.  I love watching my family open one gift after service and witnessing the power of the right gift for the right person in the right season. But if others in our number were asked, it might be ham or stockings or reading the Advent Book or even an avalanche of socks. Traditions provide an anchor to help connect us to one another’s histories.

The most challenging questions are: when is it time to hold tightly to tradition and when does it make sense to allow these anchor points to be adapted?

Over the last few years, there have been small iterations to our Christmas Eve and Day rhythms. So it didn’t come as a huge surprise after a litany of text messages, that the expanded Original Five would not occupy the same space for the Eve and Day. But as I allowed my mind to wander over so many people who long for even a few moments of face-to-face presence and will not have this access, it helped me exhale. I could either walk through December with an attitude or I could view this as one of the dynamic aspects of life. I had equated the change in our united observance as a diminished holiday instead of being simply different. With this reality check in mind, I decided it was the perfect opportunity to fling the windows wide open by changing our menu.

I will admit there was an audible sigh from the ham lover but I am grateful for her pliable ways.

Maybe because I was set on embracing a slower-paced life with its accompanying spaces for silence and solitude. Instead of being clamped down by constant outer noise which renders me indecisive, my mind was able to easily enlarge and immediately landed on making Beef Bourguignon. I had never made it before but every thought conjured visions from the movie Julie and Julia and filled me with a warm and cozy family feeling.

I researched recipes and found a recipe based on Julia Child’s classic recipe with four options for preparation. The Beef Bourguignon could be made on the stovetop, in the oven, crockpot or InstaPot. Could there be a more accurate illustration of our culture?

We had a lovely Christmas morning together with a casual brunch and exchanged gifts. A few members departed and others remained. We enjoyed telephone conversations with faraway family members we missed and a few naps were had. A day without little clock watching revealed I was later beginning my cooking than anticipated. But there wasn’t a reason to panic as dinner would happen in its own time.

I began cooking bacon and chopping vegetables and meat. The searing of the beef in batches took time but the smell made it enjoyable. Each layered step was important as I added herbs and spices while maintaining a low heat. I placed the covered pot in the oven for the magic of a few hours to occur. Just before taking the pot from the oven,
I would prepare mushrooms sauteed in butter and garlic as a final add-in. Our menu would include mashed potatoes, green beans, fresh fruit, and rolls. This simplicity gave me plenty of time to sit, visit and enjoy the day.

There was a tiny part of my mind that mulled over the thought of this meal turning into a disaster. With every “what if”, I whispered to my mind to obey my nose, as the house began to fill with the aroma of glorious ingredients doing their job in tandem, those fears were subdued.

When I look back on this meal, I will recall glancing at my watch and knowing the intended eating time had passed but the actual time was perfect because no one was in a hurry. I will remember the popping of Christmas crackers and the placing of crowns upon our heads.  I will visualize the star attraction of the meal being ladled over creamy potatoes, the smiles and chorus of sighs upon first tastes. I will never forget our (never understated) son-in-love Adam grabbing me not once, but twice by the shoulders to proclaim it the best Christmas dinner he had ever had, coupled with his desire to have Beef Bourguignon every year. A new tradition, perhaps.

The meal was exceptional not because of the cook. It was delicious because of the ingredients and time. The dish was allowed to simmer and each part was allowed to mingle. Perhaps the experience could have been replicated in an InstaPot but I have my doubts.

The depth and richness of a recipe are often only achieved when the ingredients are allowed to cook slowly for an appointed time.
We would be wise to let our lives and the cast of characters remain at a simmer instead of fretting over why a rapid boil hasn’t occurred.

True, God made everything beautiful in itself and in its time—but he’s left us in the dark, so we can never know what God is up to, whether he’s coming or going. I’ve decided that there’s nothing better to do than go ahead and have a good time and get the most we can out of life. That’s it—eat, drink, and make the most of your job. It’s God’s gift.

Ecclesiastes 3:11-13 (The Message)

wp-15807105788381058712875.jpg

Top of Post Photo credit: Edgar Castrejon on Unsplash

 

the opposite of speed reading

the opposite of speed reading

surrounded-by-books1

“Everywhere there are doors leading to new spaces and new stories and new secrets to be discovered and everywhere there are books.”
~from The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

There are days when I wonder if Carl knew what he was subjecting himself to when we married.

There are the days when a casual walk through our home is marked by a trail, a gathering of books I am currently reading. Each book blending into the landscape until I scarcely realize the sum.


However, over the last year when my life felt tangled and out of sync from aging, mounting stresses at work and dealing with chronic pain, I reaffirmed my shift to living more simply and slowly. My affection for books didn’t diminish but I grew weary of seeing books scattered everywhere. The physical clutter caused me to feel anxious by the vast quantity of literature surrounding me at all times.


Those who live with me, understand this is a slow process. I am not perfect but I am trying to rein in this habit and retrain my ways. It’s a delicate balance to keep order among the books I own and those retrieved from the library.


Two months ago, I lassoed every stray book and took the weighty assortment to my downstairs workspace. Once assembled, I sorted those books into two piles. One pile represented library books that no longer interested me or were not the right timing and would be returned. The second pile was comprised of books I wanted to read, either my own or library owned. I cleared out a section on one of the shelves above my work table and separated library books from owned books. I attached small post-it notes with due dates along their spines.


Any book entering our home will first be placed on this shelf. From this collection, my reading material will come.


I hadn’t realized the weight I felt from having books, even those I was enjoying, spread throughout my spaces. All these unfinished books seemed akin to feeling indecisive and overwhelmed. My reading attention had become scattered and splintered. I was highly distractible. My digital habit of keeping my computer or phone tabs open morphed into countless bookmark usage. After all, I am surely capable enough to read a book, catch up on Netflix with Carl and text a friend simultaneously.


This year, I am endeavoring to read one book at a time. Well, to be honest, one fiction and one non-fiction book at a time. I have also decided to no longer set goals related to the number of books read in a year. My personality drives me towards speed reading instead of savoring the experience of a great book.

Maybe you haven’t read a book in years and have no concept of my issue.

Have you let magazines spill over the coffee table?


Surely you meant to take out a pen to complete the Sunday crosswords but watching each week’s edition cover the previous one leaves you discouraged.


It could be too many clothes to fit in your closet, so they “decorate” other areas of your home?

Are you afraid to open your inbox because the number of emails, unread or otherwise has reached staggering numbers?

Putting my overflow of books in their place and beyond my line of sight brought freedom. No longer am I letting my books manage me.

A small newly created habit where I scan the shelf, assess which books are due soon, which ones cannot be renewed for extra days and the books which have lost their luster for now. Then weed out books and decide which ones might be next in line. I leave the books in their appointed place unless it is time to bring one upstairs.

Since I am a mood reader with a capital M. My previous routine was to gather an armload of books when deciding on my next read, peruse the first few sentences or pages and whichever one captured my attention was the winner. Now I use the same method, but I don’t sit in my living room chair but before my work table. Nothing comes upstairs unless it is my chosen book, not a hopeful contender.


Like keeping a tidy home, tasks need to be done regularly.

To keep my mind tidy, I must be vigilant to not create piles of any sort.
Tidy up, my friends.

Once you finish, why not take 15 minutes and read a good book?


I am off to practice what I preach as I see a few stray books attempting to create a book stack. But here’s a peek at what I am reading now:

wp-1579893174653750204937.jpg

The Next Right Thing
This book is about making decisions. I preordered it before I knew a big job-related decision was looming. I was completely undone with indecision and didn’t have the attention span to read this book. However, one of the bonuses for preordering was a video and workbook course called Discern and Decide. I spent most of one day and completed the course. A different medium helped connect the dots. Months later I was ready to make the decision to leave my job. There will always be decisions to make, large or small. I am hopeful reading this book will aid me to make my next decisions regarding work. The course is still available for a fee, it was immeasurably helpful to me.

The Starless Sea
I have been waiting for Erin Morgenstern to release a new book after loving The Night Circus more than eight years ago. Her newest book is beautiful inside and out and required restraint to delay reading until I had sufficient time to fully immerse in the richness of her storytelling. I have read the first 25 pages and by the time this post is published, I hope to have spent the weekend between the cover of a captivating book.

*****

I love this quote from James Clear’s most recent 3-2-1 newsletter:

Reading is like a software update for your brain.

Whenever you learn a new concept or idea, the “software” improves. You download new features and fix old bugs.

In this way, reading a good book can give you a new way to view your life experiences. Your past is fixed, but your interpretation of it can change depending on the software you use to analyze it.

This post is a part of the slow collection. Never miss future posts by subscribing to this blog. Email subscribers are always the first to read new posts and updates. Find details on the sidebar. I appreciate your readership.