signposts

signposts

img_0513-1When I turned 55 last August and chose the word slow to anchor my year, I also christened the milestone with two others. 

I declared this season as midlife crafting to propel myself away from a supposed crisis. Whether I was intentional or not, this past year has circled around my identity.
Crafting involves taking a little bit of this and that. If done properly,  I hope my life in progress will definitely look homemade and not mass-produced. Identities are meant to be unique. 

Pinning down an identity can resemble a magician’s sleight of the hand, complete with smoke and mirrors. We are meant to grow and change, not possessing the same identity at twelve as forty. And yet, there are some defining parts of our identity that will always remain, our core.

I have been looking backward to who I inhabited in the past, making a truce with the less desirable bits and honoring pieces overlooked which make me who I am today. 

If I hadn’t slowed down this past year, I may have missed two signposts leading me to recover a piece of my identity.

*****

My mother discovered an envelope of my Girl Scout badges which she arranged in a shadow box along with my scout pin and sent as a gift. I love this square box, placed it to see most days but the even more precious part of this gift is the envelope affixed to the back. Inside is a short note from my troop leader. One sentence stands out,

“Helen, you have been a good scribe this year.” 

Evidently, I had been my troop’s secretary. As I thought about this role, I recalled several other times I had assumed the position of secretary or recorder. It seemed my place in the world was often to write down the contents of meetings.

I was a scribe. 

Perhaps I wrote down the words of others until I was ready to write my own. 

Perhaps I was content to listen to the words of others instead of speaking my own. 

Now I am a  writer. 

Now I have a voice.

A few months later, Carl was clearing away clutter and came across a program from my physical therapy school graduation. I glanced at the folded paper and without thought, scanned the list of names, reminding myself of each classmate.  I also looked at who our class speakers were and nodded thinking, “Yes, of course.” I set the program aside but not out of reach. 

In March, when the world began to close its doors and I attempted to write words of hope and encouragement along an unknown path, I began to close each post with a benediction, it seemed right. 

Allow me to return to my  32-year-old parchment paper program. It laid cast aside for several weeks without regard, until one day, the synapses in my brain fired and connected at the right moment and inside me was a gentle, pleading voice saying, 

“Wait a minute.” 

I picked up the program, scanned to the bottom of the page, and saw my name on one side of the paper, directly across from the word, benediction.

Picking up the program from all those years ago, my first inclination was centered on the class as a whole and a couple of names that seemed to bear more weight than my own. 

How had I forgotten this fact, this honor?

I was chosen to speak words ending a ceremony and our time as students. I wrote a prayer ushering in a new identity to 32 other people before we filed out toward the embraces of our loved ones, ready to forge our paths in the world.

For decades, I had forgotten. 

One day by looking behind,  I was reminded.

I remembered.  

I recovered a piece of my identity.

My eyes frequently look to the crowd or someone else, missing the space designed for me. I fell asleep to myself and missed my own name. 

I write benedictions.

*****

What if you haven’t forgotten?

What if the names you rehearse are those you no longer desire?

Sometimes names are repeatedly spoken over us by ourselves or others.  It could be time to release the names we no longer wish to wear or trap us by familiarity. Start reaching for life-giving words. 

Several years ago, my son asked me to stop calling him by a nickname created by our family. My children have handfuls of nicknames but he was the first to ask for one to cease usage, if not entirely, at least in front of his friends. We hadn’t intended to use it outside of our family but sometimes a  name becomes reflexive. I liked the nickname and a part of me wanted to hold on.  But my thoughts and affection for this term of endearment weren’t important, for my son, this name didn’t measure up to the identity he was building. I stopped using it. 

If a name you are called evokes a visceral response, this is a signpost revealing a desire to no longer answer to this name.  

What name no longer fits? 

May we use this time to reflect on what names we want to honor and cherish and the ones which need to fall to the ground rendering them powerless.

What would it be like if we all emerged from this time of crisis and stepped outside our doors fully as the people were always designed to be?

What a wonderful world to behold!

Have you forgotten who you are?

Are you only remembering names that are untrue?

What signposts have you ignored?

*****

May we regain our sight to rediscover who we truly are.

May we uncover signposts everywhere.

May we take our eyes off the crowded path and not miss the one bearing our name.

May we have the confidence to express the need for certain names to be extinguished.


Benediction:

  • the invocation of a blessing 
  • the short blessing with which public worship is concluded 
  • something that promotes goodness or well-being and,
    an expression of good wishes
our bodies are truth tellers

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.

 

 

a meandering path

a meandering path

A short time ago, I wrote a post about how God can be trusted.

Somehow three hours later, I returned to my default.

I slid off the edge of trust and into an abyss of mistrustful thinking.

Once again I couldn’t grab any sense of control with my fingers and my thoughts wandered everywhere but towards truth.

It was painful, crippling and humbling.

Not only do I need to practice what I preach but read what I write and believe it.

I am grateful this spiral didn’t last long but was a reminder of how quickly I can return to faulty and familiar ways.

*****

Three times in this past week, my eyes came upon words which helped me to recover, reminded me of where my trust should reside and provided comfort despite my propensity to tumble.

The Word

“I have not spoken in secret,
In a corner of a land of darkness;
I did not say to the descendants of Jacob,
‘Seek Me in vain [with no benefit for yourselves].’
I, the Lord, speak righteousness [the truth—trustworthy,
a straightforward correlation between deeds and words],

Declaring things that are upright.

+++Isaiah 45: 19 (AMP)

This verse was a good reminder of how God speaks words of truth directly.
He is not playing hide and seek with His people.
If I am actively listening for His voice, I will and for my benefit.

A STUDY

My God does not speak in whispers and accusatory hisses.
My God only speaks in promises. He only speaks over me.
He is a promise-maker and a promise-keeper.

His language is promises.
To hear God speaking, we must become familiar with his promises.

+++Hannah Brencher (from First Be A Follower)

When I am overcome by fear or struggle, if I reflect, the words circling my mind are not affirming, life-giving or encouraging. God’s words are full of promises not defeat.

A STORY

I’m a reader but  when I suffer a book slump, I have found reading middle grade fiction, especially fantasy, snaps me out of my book fog. I picked up Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow from the library last week.

All you need to know about the plot is the main character, Morrigan, believes she is a cursed child but she has been rescued from the family and city which gave her this identity. She must conquer a number of trials to be granted admission to the Wondrous Society.  At this point in the book, she fearful her patron will not be present for her last trial. She has the following exchange with Fenestra, an enormous feline or a Magnificat (stick with me).

~~~~

He’d promised her. He’d promised.

Just like he promised to take you to the Nevermoor Bazaar, said a little voice in the back of her head. And look how that turned out.

But this was different, Morrigan told herself. This was her trial. The big one—the one he’d sworn he’d take care of, the one he’d said she didn’t even have to think about. She’d done her very best not to think about it, but now what? She couldn’t do it on her own. She didn’t even know what her talent was supposed to be.

“Fenestra, please!” she yelled, and the cat turned to glare at her. “What’s he doing, where did he go?”

“He said he had something important to do. That’s all I know.”

Morrigan’s heart sank. More important than being there for the most important day of her life? More important than keeping his promise?

She felt wrong-footed. Seized by the sudden terror of her predicament, she entirely forgot why she had been looking for him in the first place.

She was on her own. She would have to do her Show Trial without him. She was on her own

Morrigan slumped down into one of the leather armchairs by the fire. Her whole body felt as if it were made of lead.

Fenestra stood up suddenly and appeared above Morrigan’s armchair, bringing her enormous furry face down to the girl’s eye level. “Did he say he’d be here for your trial?”

Tears pricked Morrigan’s eyes. “Yes, but—“

“Did he tell you he’d take care of it?”

“Yes, but—“

“Did he promise you everything would be all right?”

A few hot tears spilled down Morrigan’s face. “Yes, but—“

“That settles it, then.” With a placid blink of her huge amber eyes, Fen nodded once. “He’ll be here for your trial. He’ll take care of it. Everything will be all right.”

Morrigan sniffled and wiped her nose with her shirtsleeve. She squeezed her eyes shut, shaking her head.

“How do you know that?”

“He’s my friend. I know my friend.”

+++from Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

When faced with struggles, ask the following questions:

Am I all alone?

What do I know to be true?

What true words can replace my words of fear,insecurity or lies?

Who am I? Who does God say I am? Does each answer agree or contradict?

Can I trust my Friend today?

May we each continue on the path of complete and continuous trust in our Maker, but may we also accept grace when we meander.

Amen.

 

before a work of heart: pt.2

before a work of heart: pt.2

Our lives are like a glorious page turner, in which we are not able to determine the twists and turns.  Had we known which way the details of our lives would align themselves, our lives would be predictable and not the journey that they are designed to be.

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.

(excerpt from A Work of Heart blog post-September 2006)

(I fought the urge to rewrite the above.)

If I am honest, had my life been a book, I wanted to be the author.

I wanted to name all the characters, describe the plot, subplots and

construct the ending.

Although predictable endings are often chided, I considered that possibility

fabulous in my book.

Not having a plan or direction in my life unnerved me.

I placed my qualms in a brightly colored box filled with perfection and performance

enveloped with a sparkly smiling bow.

As college approached and tensions heightened,

the public library offered me tranquility and a comfortable setting

to determine the course of my life.

On Saturdays, I would stride toward the reference section

containing  mammoth volumes about careers

and hoist one upon a table.

From A to Z, I would investigate career options, requirements,

salary ranges and who was best suited for each profession.

From the pages of a heavy tome in a library, I chose physical therapy

as my career choice.

I had laser sharp focus in college.

There were subjects I was drawn towards but

if they weren’t on the map,

I ignored the gravitational pull and I drop kicked those classes.

With the exception of a semester of college physics which proved to be

my undoing, I worked hard enough to earn grades necessary to

apply to physical therapy school.

Carl and I had been engaged for a few months and we had a huge decision

to make regarding physical therapy school at

Northwestern University in Chicago or

The Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.

Graduate school began three weeks after Carl and I had said our vows.

We stuffed our Honda, waved goodbye to family, friends

and wedding gifts and headed to Rochester, Minnesota

and called it a honeymoon.

We were young, in love and anything familiar to us was thousands of miles

away, visible only if we squinted in our rear view mirror.

The P.T. program at Mayo was affectionately or not so affectionately

called mini-Medical school.

It was intense and not the ideal orientation for newlyweds.

Physical therapy school proved to be

the catalyst of stripping away chunks of my identity.

I found myself uncomfortable answering questions on the spot.

I cringed when I demonstrated techniques before my classmates.

In college, I set up camp in a library and studied without time constraints but as

a young married, I had to learn how to balance school and a husband.

After 8 hours of class most students were in the library or anatomy lab for

the rest of the night.

I wanted to study but I also longed to be with Carl.

I wanted to decorate our apartment and cook meals yet

Carl worked late hours, I would return to an empty apartment and find

a pan of Hamburger Helper and a note from Carl.

I was accustomed to working hard enough to ensure good grades,

now I inhabited the lower third of my class.

Every clinical day I put on my white laboratory coat over my “Mayo Way” dress

code and raced to keep up.

I used to have hours to spend with God, now I could only nod my head knowing

He was with me but we felt like strangers.

I felt every bit like the pizza Carl would bring home at 2 am.

We would sit on the floor and catch up.

Slivers of slumber gave way to awakening with the pizza

hangovers we thought were exclusive to college.

There was a silent conversation between our eyes expressing

disbelief of how our newlywed bliss was spent in tiny scattered segments.

My carefully constructed life was a jumbled up mess of partially devoured

wedges without hope of fitting back into a whole concentric circle.

The steadfast words filling those two years were found in textbooks, clinical

evaluations, board exams

and love notes from my husband encouraging me to not give up.

All words written by the hands of others and not my own.

Could my bookmark be retrieved once it floated to the ground?

**********

To be continued…

This post is from a series called  A Work of Heart History.
You can read the first post here.

 

relinquishing the default button

relinquishing the default button

During my teen years, I would head to the public library to

check out back issues of SEVENTEEN magazine.

I rarely made eye contact with one particular librarian as she once arched her

eyebrows in my direction, lowered them long enough to view my selections

and inquired,

“Just how old are you?”

She might have called me “missy” but I don’t recall.

I quickly added a birthday and said, “15.”

My eyes would devour every detail of what most teenage age girls considered

the gospel truth.

Some articles were of minor interest to me and others I didn’t comprehend.

I did understand acne and although it wasn’t a major problem, a brief article

about this dreaded plight drew my attention.

In the margin with bold type contained the answer to my misery.

“Pimples seldom occur past age 21”.

21 seemed a universe away but it gave me a pursuit.

One day these breakouts would be

game. set. match. over.

Because SEVENTEEN magazine tells the truth.

Until I reached 22 and 25 and now at 49,

I know the falsehood of that bold print statement.

The grains in an hourglass fall through space,

collecting in heaps but their mass cannot bury

all things hard and inconvenient.

I was reminded of this truth in my life this past weekend while attending

the Faith and Culture Writers Conference.

I believe the Father loves me and knows me.

Yet I forget He knows my frame, my desires and my ways.

He knows even after my year of brave, walking into a crowd of

hundreds is not my sweet spot.

He knows I never want to impose or intrude or thrust myself upon

another even if it comes wrapped up in a writing treasure named Deidra.

The One who knows my name and every ounce of my frailty and

tendencies decided to take care of business before the conference

had even begun.

As I was standing in line to check-in to my room, I found myself behind

Cornelia, conference founder extraordinaire.

We embrace and she introduces

me to Phil Long, a stellar poet who wowed us last year.

He exits the lobby to find his room and suddenly there is Deidra Riggs.

Cornelia introduces us, we hug and exchange small talk.

I could tell she was weary from her trek across states and time zones

and she was gracious to ask me more questions than

I ventured to ask in return.

How tender of God to provide an introduction in natural surroundings

because he knows we are both just two travelers

pulling rolling suitcases.

He whisperers,

See what I can do, Helen?

It’s not two steaming mugs at a

Starbucks but it will do.

And it did.

The breakouts I deal with at 49 are ones

I clearly thought would be laid to rest by now.

They are contained in a tiny box I check

when asked,

“Do you want this to be your default mode?”

The box repeats,

I am not enough.

I am different.

I will not be included.

In any setting, I allow my eyes to inspect a room of people

and count how many I would term the life of the party.

My default is to open my trick or treat bag like Charlie Brown

and declare,

“I got a rock called calm.”

Can I tell you how often I have rejected being calm?

For too long, I have said no thank you to the way God

has carved my soul.

Can I also tell you how often God and other people met me

in the calm this weekend?

Too many times to write in this post.

As I wrote in the beginning, I poured over SEVENTEEN

magazine.

But I subscribed to ‘Teen magazine.

One day, I decided to write a letter to the editor.

I told him that I had been a  subscriber for years and

I was considering canceling my subscription because I could

not follow the hair or make-up advice.

There was no one pictured within the magazine covers who bore

any resemblance to me.

How was I to know what type of make-up to wear when my eyes

were not blue or green and I didn’t have freckles?

I had an afro and not straight hair.

This was my quiet and calm rebellion.

Several issues later there were two African-American

identical twin sisters featured as models in the magazine.

I am confident mine was not the only complaint.

Perhaps it never occurred to them that two models of color

who looked exactly the same was not completely

solving the problem.

It was a step in a better direction but it also provided

me with unexpected instruction.

I will never learn who I am in the pages of a magazine.

I can’t understand beauty by someone else’s standard.

None of us are identical.

I still forget.

I still look at glossy covers and book deals and Facebook likes

as the indicator or final word in worthiness.

God guides me under his wing

and His love displays how I have

mistakenly read the wrong script.

My friend Pam, was to be at the writers conference

and a guest panelist but was unable to attend.

She asked via Instagram if I would consider writing about

the conference.

This week, I would like to share a collection of

thoughts and quotes from some of the speakers.

You might believe semicolons, plot lines and

agents are the only topics at a writers conference.

You might be tempted to take the week off from this

blog.

I would encourage you to wander back and see if you might discover

yourself right along with me.

This past weekend

we talked about

faith, life and fears.

We shared tales of

rejection, messes and passions.

We admitted our dreams are good

and the need to be brave in writing

down our stories.

United we witnessed the power in proudly calling ourselves writers.

A book deal doesn’t define calling.

We all need to know who we are.

Won’t you join me this week?

.