let your life simmer

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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)

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Top of Post Photo credit: Edgar Castrejon on Unsplash

 

a year later

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On March 2nd, I celebrated one year on the job.

It’s funny how slowly and quickly a year can pass.

Time moves molasses slow when you are learning new skills and desperately want to be a master in a matter of days but at quitting time each day you lament to having nothing in common with superhero.

Times resembles a speeding bullet when your body has relinquished sleeping in.

Yet the passage of these 365+ days has shown me the value of days strung together allowing me to arrive at a different space than previously resided.

Bullet journals are all the rage right now, so let’s pretend this is a page from mine recounting a half-dozen or so takeaways from my first year on the job after a lengthy sabbatical.

  • Don’t diminish the change.
    I believe I spent roughly 3/4’s of this past year, pushing back against the fact that  a big change had occurred in my life and my family’s. I found myself saying these words, “I am only working part-time” or “20 hours a week shouldn’t make such an impact”, or further “what’s wrong with me, you would think I was working full-time?”
    With each uttered word, I diminished the change. I essentially wouldn’t give myself permission to feel weak or overwhelmed. I erroneously believed I had to be strong and in control always. And if I believed this for myself, I further translated it to mean the people in my life held the same belief. It was a sham. I am slowly recovering from this faulty belief system and the easiest way for me to test which path I am walking is to check out my neck muscles and listen to my response when asked how I am doing. My mouth and neck are the quickest indicators of whether I am holding my breath instead of letting air expand my lungs, or trying to hold control in a death-grip instead of opening my hands in acceptance.
  • Choose relationships over responsibility.
    During the first two weeks of work, I came down with a horrible cold/flu and missed two days of work. About a week and a half later, Carl’s sister suddenly passed away. We said goodbye to her Sunday afternoon and that night, I went to the store, bought everything I could think of for Carl and my children to meet with our nephew and niece and their families during Monday morning and afternoon. I went to work. I will emphasis,no one from my work said I needed to be there. I felt like I should be there. Carl and I had discussed it and we both felt since I would miss work for services, I should go. If places were traded, Carl would have been at work. We both value being responsible and dependable. But here is what I know now. I should have stayed home to be with my family. Yes I left some killer trays of food but I shouldn’t have gotten in my car and driven away. It was simply one day in a work week. That one day would not write the story of my work life but it did subtract a page from my family’s chronicle. On that Monday, I chose to elevate my work responsibility over my response to relationship. This was a mistake, I will not repeat.
  • Give yourself time and extend yourself grace.
    I kept waiting for one magical morning when I would wake up and every part of my life was put back into a perfect order. Or better yet, to spring out of bed at 6am without an alarm, full of purpose and joy. I grieved the loss of my old life and rhythm and it felt extremely painful to envision my days looking differently.
    I truly think it demanded a year of walking through the literal seasons and days to grasp the new rhythm. A year to realize I wouldn’t crumble. I missed (for the most part) being the boss of my days.  Well, at least thinking I was boss. But if I am the most candid with you, I was the most lonesome for God of my whole life. I have known wilderness seasons and sections of life I would never want to revisit, but this parcel of land was foreign like none I had ever known. Desolate.
    God was there but I missed having loads of time to just hang out in my house with Him. I experienced winter throughout spring and summer. Change is hard because it disrupts the familiar but God cannot be changed. Isn’t that good news?! The days look different but in God’s tenderness, He has helped me find Him in smaller tighter fitting spaces of time. I am grateful and a lot less lonely.
  • Learn to say no with an asterisk.
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    I stumbled upon this graphic when I was setting up to write this post. I hadn’t realized it had been nearly 2 months since my last post. It was interesting to see a year stacked in blog posts. The areas I said no with an asterisk this past year were: weekly blog writing, card writing, regular friend time, reading, making meals for others and gift giving. Saying no with an asterisk took three forms: No for now, yes but not as often and no to being on time. I said “no for now” to regular blog and card writing. Sigh. Both types of writing ignite my soul but unless I sense a persistent nudge rather than nagging guilt, it’s a no for now. The next “no” was actually “yes but not as often” for friend time, taking meals and reading. Friday is my day off. It took me a couple of months to realize the calendar square is quite small. I can’t grocery shop, see the dentist, chat over paper cups with a friend, clean my house,exercise,take a nap and finish a book
    without it seeping outside my planner. Friends have been patient and understanding and just like a boomerang initially labeled no, it has slowly returned with a yes more often. Last year was not a stellar year of book reading as I didn’t have the brain space for it. I could not read in the evenings. By year-end, reading moved to the big Yes column. Gifts are in the “no, it won’t be on time” category. I love giving gifts as well as sending cards but I have made peace with not being on time especially if mailing is involved. A gift is still a gift whenever it is received.
  • Ask for and accept help.
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    One of our neighbors delivered a card and a container of cookies to our porch during my first week of work. In every sense of the word, it was the sweetest gesture. It buoyed my weary soul. When I profusely thanked her, she reminded me of how I had made her family a meal when she had returned to work, soup when they were ALL sick and cared for them when while her husband was traveling for work. I knew this but had forgotten. The cookies were her way of saying thank you and remembrance of the early days of work. I have been carried by so many over this past year. The biggest area has been needing help with Caleb. I have sent out text messages which might as well been typed in all CAPS and had moms immediately respond with a “of course Caleb can hang out with us.” Caleb has been quick to let us know he is an extrovert among introverted parents. He needs his people. Before I could even ask, moms have given me a place for Caleb to be on no school days or late openings or school breaks. It simply makes me teary by how much this has meant to me, to us. Right now, it feels very out of balance and I have no way of repaying them. But then I remind myself how others were in the same position and I provided a soft place to land and it probably felt like a teeter totter heavily weighted on one side. Teeter totters rise and fall, thank you friends and family for lifting me towards the sky.
    And thanks for a husband who among other great things seems to always be bearing a basket of freshly laundered clothes. Blessed.

    • Make your desert island list.
      When life gets rearranged, essentials matter. What would you take if you were stranded on a deserted island?The question is designed to draw an arrow towards what is valued. I have thought about my loves and needs. I am going to change the question to: What would I take if I was working on a deserted island?
      I would take my God, my people, my books and my creativity. Actually God would be there, I wouldn’t have to ask. So my people in their various forms of family and friends because I see a big island. I envision a secluded place for my hammock where I refuel with solitude and a good book. Although, I haven’t figured out on the mainland a way to up my steps with lots of sitting at work,I think the island living would provide the right amount of fitness while I survey the beauty helping me to create.

      *****

      Cheers to the past year of change and a new year in which to sink deeper into all its many nuances. I am grateful to be on the other side of a year. Thank you for continuing to read this blog during the silences or lengthy posts. I deeply appreciate your faithfulness and friendship to no end.