Change of Plans

A little perspective goes a long way.  As odd as it sounds, my stresses tend to come from my blessings, my abundance.  Even my seeming lack of financial resources isn’t all that bad; most everything gets paid most of the time and on time.  It’s the excesses we can’t afford, and excess by nature is something we don’t need.  I get stressed because I’m trying too hard to control everything.  That just cannot happen, and I certainly can’t do everything on my own.

It takes one event to set in motion a trajectory downhill.  That spiral that will go as deep as we let it or as deep as it can pull us.  Some may call it natural selection.  Some call it fate.  It is true that darkness is ever-present.  What makes some of us more keenly aware of the light in our lives and some more susceptible to the pull of darkness?  Can it also be the same for positive events, that when good things start happening, they just keep coming?

I don’t mean to oversimplify this.  Life is not either good or bad.  Mostly, it’s gray, and, despite the over-use of the phrase, it is what it is.  I am convinced that our perspective, how we choose to encounter everything along our way, and our choices going forward make all the difference.  I’m also convinced that we cannot do it alone.  If your faith is enough, bless you.  If you’re like most of us, you need community.

As part of a community I love dearly, I’m willing to change my plans for lunch and visit a friend in need.  I let go of my expectations and live into something greater.  We make magic happen every day and can rejoice in the light.  When the darkness comes, we can know we are not alone and that we don’t have to be afraid.

That’s a beautiful thing.

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(Not) Another Gumption Trap

If ever I thought that gumption traps were only for those things that I loathed to do . . . I may have been on to something.

For a moment I thought my current state of discombobulation resulted from a procrastination of that which I am thoroughly excited about and looking forward to.  Alas, getting to the end involves some steps in between, little steps that must be made like outlines and timelines and trips to the store.  Then there’s also the messy phases (where the lack of knowledge is discovered or the dust is revealed) before everything is neatly packed and ready for the next phase.

I am holding on and find myself in another trap.

Not all traps are unpleasant, mind you, just as not all ruts are mucky.  There’s something to be said for comfortable routines, predictable leisure, familiar surroundings.  Then Change comes along, perhaps accompanied by Opportunity, and suddenly nothing is as it “should” be.  Heaven forbid we try to straighten everything while the very foundation continues to shake.  Again, there’s that rumble in my gut.

Even my subconscious knows growth is happening.  At my core, I know it to be good.  There just seems to be another layer to be cracked, even if it’s just a little membrane to split open, before the genuine excitement and sheer enthusiasm can kick in, before the roots grow deep and the branches flower.

Of course, it may not happen soon.  There may be much to hold the layer firm.  Eventually, though, it will.  I’m not one to hold back for long.  Nature will have its way.

So, be still, my beating heart.  Sigh deeply.  Smile.  Let the work begin.  There never was a trap, just a choice to be made.

 

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Time to Be Grateful

Truly I believe that there is a season for everything, but I also believe that every day calls for time for gratitude.  After an intense season of waiting (oh, and we’re not done yet!), there are more and more signs that I need to pause and give thanks at least daily.

Often, I have to admit, my thanks don’t come until I finally lay in bed, offering my genuine prayers from a tired body.  The gratitude, the thanks with which I begin my prayers, surrounds me.  I am comforted and renewed, and in this calm and peaceful state, I drift to sleep before I know it.

More often than I probably realize, I am aware enough in my waking hours to realize just how many gifts surround me.  For my senior year in high school, I gave my closest friends a poster with 365 of my favorite things written around a picture of me with the recipient.  I made one for my then-boyfriend, now-husband, too.  The blessings of this life are not lost on me, but I could certainly be more aware.

A friend recently recommended a book called One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.  Ann has a blog, A Holy Experience, that got her started, I believe.  Her story is rich with her faith and ties into scripture.  Her poetic writing and sense of awareness speaks to a side of me that sometimes feels and gets neglected.  She’s unabashedly intense and devoted.  A kindred I haven’t even met.

Whatever our faith tradition, gratitude speaks deeply and as sweetly as the five-year-old speaking “I love you, Mom” into my ear.

Oh, let me count the ways.

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For Love of a Dog

On this third day of Christmas, I revel in the tender love of a dog, in forgiveness, and in hope.

He’s ten years old, our yellow lab.  He’s been grumpy since we had our third and then fourth child, and I’m convinced it’s because he didn’t move up the chain of command, remaining at the bottom of the totem pole.  He is above this role of dog, but it’s his lot this life, to watch over and guard this crazy, chaotic, precious family.

Sitting with him at the vet, wondering what was wrong with him, thinking he was surely dying, praying to St. Francis, I tried to make sure my touch was tender, intentional, and soothing.  It was okay if he was dying, so long as he wasn’t in pain.  And would he please forgive me for not loving him as unconditionally as he was and is loving and loyal to us.

It turns out he has a broken — completely broken, up by the hip joint — femur in a back leg.  He only whined a bit.  He still wags his tail.  He just wasn’t eating and moving around.  Otherwise, we probably wouldn’t have known.  Turns out he also has arthritis in a front leg, but the limp he should have he doesn’t.  Our dog has a high pain tolerance, apparently, and he’s healthy for an overweight ten year old lab.

It comes down to whether or not we’ll pay for the surgery.  There are risks, of course, but with our attention and care, he should recover fine.  He seems to have hope, and we realize how much we love the old dog.  So we’ll hope he’ll live another four years, continuing to bless us with his fur, farts, and unconditional love.  Yes, some of that I could live without now, but for today, our family remains six plus two furry critters.

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A Hallowed Walk

Wheels set in motion.  Gears turning.  In the midst of transition, whether beginning, middle, or end, it can be difficult to discern whether one is on the up-side or down.

Life is so good.  I am so blessed, and I was especially reminded of this last night.

A dear friend cannot resist the pull to this sacred holiday.  Tradition and genetics pull strongly and, in this case, to our advantage.  A festive home, wonderful and generous people, and nearly a dozen giddy children a great Halloween party make!

I realized after the third house that the older children weren’t going to listen to me, so I kept close watch on the youngest, my flower peddler turned living dead.  (She had to paint her face!)  It really was fascinating, watching the kids run, propelled by excitement and anticipation.  I don’t recall one of them mentioning the darkness or a fear thereof.  They were safe on this night to wander the streets . . . at least in their minds, I suppose.

Inevitably, my five-year-old’s legs grew tired, her bag (a.k.a. pillowcase) heavy.  She was ready to go back to the house, even as the rest of the gang rushed to the next porch light.  “Are you sure?” I asked.  “Uh-huh.”  I didn’t question much more, knowing a warm house, delicious food, and a patient daddy awaited.

Walking back, her warm little hand in  mind, I remembered what she had said earlier, running ahead of me.  “This is my favorite part!” Pure joy glowed in those words, and her little boots swiftly ran through the darkness.  At a slower pace now, we retraced our steps, and she talked with me.

Being away from home in these tender ages, I miss this most: being ever-present to the wisdom of the child.

She spoke of much in her oh-so-mature manner, and at one point she said, “Mom, do you really think God is in everything?”  I heard her doubt.  I heard questioning.  I either felt or heard a sadness.  In a body so small came this enormous question, and I lacked the theological knowledge to answer it accurately.  So I did the best I could and answered from my heart.  I didn’t want to appear dismissive, and it’s not a simple question.  She was serious, so I must be.  One of her dear friends doesn’t think God is in everything, she told me, and therein I discovered the stimulus for the conversation.  “That’s okay,” I told her.  So long as we love one another, we are doing the best we can.

We walked in silence a bit and gave our flashlight to another family that was walking without a light of any kind.  They seemed disbelieving for a moment after I offered it to them, but I assured them we were almost home, and it really was very dark in places.  They took it gratefully.  My daughter asked if I thought they would give it back.  I told her they didn’t need to.

Almost to the house, she said, “I love the up and down parts,” referring to the slope from the sidewalk to the driveways and back to the sidewalk.  “Up and downs, huh?” I smiled.  Such is life.

“What’s making that orange light?” she asked.  “The lights on the house, honey.”  “No, over there.  On the cars.”  “Someone locking their car.”  “Are you sure?” Such search for certainty.  “Yes,” I assured her confidently, seeing the car lights and the owner.  So often we lack concrete affirmation, proof for our statements or beliefs.  

Teachable moments, all of them, but I don’t know who is the student and who is the teacher.  I am still learning.

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Why Don’t Grown-Ups Climb Trees?

Children who climb trees learn a lot about life.

  • Move cautiously.
  • Be careful whom to trust — choose your branches wisely.
  • Have someone you trust nearby on the ground in case you need help getting back down.
  • Don’t be afraid of reaching great heights.
  • Realize you’re really very small and that there’s something greater than you at work, whether it’s the tree or the wind.
  • You might get hurt . . . you might not.
  • Sometimes you need a boost to get started.
  • Small steps are easier.
  • Be strong.
  • Be aware of the direction of the wind so you don’t get blown away.

When I was growing up (and I may have mentioned this before), there was a magnolia tree on our town square that was perfect for climbing.  It’s branches formed a veritable staircase, and my brother and I could climb as high as our nerves allowed.  A year or so later, those bottom branches were trimmed, neatly cut off, leaving wounds.  Whether it was to keep kids from climbing or to help the maintenance folks, I don’t know, but I was saddened.  I could rationalize the safety element, sure, but there went the hopes of that forever being a good climbing tree.

Yes, I let my children climb trees.  They’ve each claimed a maple in our front yard.  The fourth child shares with one of her elder siblings, depending on which she feels like choosing that day.  I have yet to make the hammocks I promised them.

I brought a chair out on the lawn to sit in the shade.  I thought it would be nice to put my feet up . . . and wouldn’t that tree be nice.  I set the chair down and looked at the broad trunk . . . and looked up at the sturdy branches . . . and put my feet in the chair, finding a way to get up higher.

I didn’t go far, though I could have gone further.  I noticed the spider webs and bird poop.  I saw a few ants.  I heard the branches rubbing in the wind.  And, oh, the wind.  I was glad to be protected by this sturdy tree.

I felt invited.  I felt reminded.  I felt welcome by an old friend who knew me well and expected nothing, not even recognition.

“Remember.  Remember.”  The words fill my mind.  Memories wash over me like the blowing breeze.  How could I forget? I guess I’m still a kid after all.

 

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Incongruous

A word sometimes appears and makes itself manifest.

This day it feels incongruous to be shut indoors for eight hours while the temperature and sunshine couldn’t be more conducive to a raucous hike with the kids or to leisurely daydreaming in the shade.

Incongruous are the values in our society and the monetary compensation.  We say our children are our future, our greatest treasure.  Individually, we may mean it, putting our money where our mouths are, sacrificing much to make sure a parent is home with and for the kids 24/7, paying for tuition at really great schools, providing access to the arts, encouraging the value of education, spending a bit of eternity in the car/transit to get the kids to practices/rehearsals/lessons.  Taking time to seek out scholarships or programs for opportunities we cannot afford, sacrificing material luxuries so we can.  Heaven forbid of you can afford it all and take it for granted.  Bless you if you can’t afford it and are trying, supplementing with more fresh air, building hope with faith and dreams.  We live in a society that revolves around money.

We want our kids educated and smart, active and healthy.  But in most cases, mom AND dad will have to work to afford it all.  Bless those who succeed.

Depression.  Divorce.  Obesity.  Violence.  Therapy.  All these are “growing” trends because we are all trying to keep up.  We really mean well . . . or we’re too ignorant to know what the root of our problems are.  The truth hurts here, and we don’t have the luxury to fool ourselves.

I’m reading Colin Beavan’s No Impact Man.  He was naive like most of us but decided to make it real, his sincerity about being ecologically and environmentally responsible.  I’m at a part in the book where they realize they need to give up t.v. and reduce long distance travel, but I realized this morning that he hasn’t mentioned their general use of electricity or cell phone or heating/cooling.  Maybe that’s coming later.

It’s incongruous to think we can be on this planet and not have an impact.

Almost like being a mom and having free time.

Having a genuinely creative mind and being trapped in a cubicle.

Being a child and herded through eight hours of the day.

Being a mom, separated from her young.

Compassion and capitalism.

Freedom and fear.

Richest nation with rising poverty.

Peace and war.

Fear and love.

Collectively we have to be aware of the disparities in our lives, what we know and feel is incongruous.  One by one we have to recognize our impact, and make it a positive one.  If we can learn this and do this and then pass that on to our children . . . then maybe we can honestly mean it when we say we value our children because only then will we have truly given them a gift.

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What Do I Expect?

Supposedly, the less we expect, the less disappointed we will be.  But without expectation, what standard would I hold for my home, my kids, . . . myself?  Obviously I have relatively high standards, and I think the same is true for most in our society.

But why are so many depressed or anxious?  What isn’t working?

I think part of it is the thinking that follows the line of “if I’m doing my part, everything should be okay . . . especially for me.”  Or maybe the expectation that if I can’t do something directly to fix xyz, then someone else will fix it.

Maybe there is expectation that life shouldn’t be too hard, that one shouldn’t have to sacrifice too much.

Maybe if it’s someone else’s problem, it’s none of my business.

I don’t know how I would go about my life if these were my expectations.  I think I work from these basic principles and the resulting expectations.

  • Living includes suffering –> Life is going to be hard.
  • Love & compassion alleviate suffering –> To make a difference, be compassionate.
  • We ALL have a choice –> Not everyone will make the same choices, nor will the choices always be good.
  • I am human –> I will be imperfect, try as I might to prove otherwise.
  • There is God –> There is Light, even and especially in the heart of darkness.

These are bigger expectations, of course, that things like, “My kids are respectful –> They pick up their toys and will keep the bathroom clean.”  But if I can keep my baseline clear and even, then I can keep (or at least have a chance at keeping) perspective.

When it comes to expectations, perspective can make all the difference.

 

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Let Nature Take Its Course

How can something so sweet and juicy come in a time so hot and dry?  The melon explodes in my mouth – first the dainty cantaloupe ball, sculpted with love by the southern hostess, then the red-ripe watermelon triangle, bite-size for those willing to commit to a full-mouth experience, prepared by aforementioned hostess.  Summer isn’t a time for inhibition.

I’m barely connected to the seasons now.  I mean, I am inevitably and unconditionally, by sheer existence on this planet, but I’m not the joyful participant I felt I was in years past, at least trying to tend the plants and the soil.  I would like to reclaim that connection.

Uncertainty abounds, and like the pesky mosquitos that keep me indoors at night, our financial circumstances have a way of stifling freedom.  We’re afloat at the moment, fortunately, but we would like to be completely unshackled.

I’ve begun my discernment group.  Things could progress much more quickly that I thought.  I have no idea how it will work out.

The most joyful things in life are free in the moment, but there are expenses involved; I cannot deny that.  I have to work with that, and I hope that I will not ever sacrifice creativity.

Nature has a way of ripening into delicious beauty despite seemingly harsh conditions.  I have hope.

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Happy Place

It’s come to my attention that not just laboring mothers need a “happy place,” some place – real or imaginary – to escape mentally when what is real is overbearing. Sometimes what we have to deal with is too much, and we need an immediate OUT.

I remember guiding my childbirth classes through such exercises, hoping to give them another tool for pain management.  Labor is painful; use what you can, and the more options you have lined up, the better.  When the physical demands start to overwhelm, it’s okay to put mind over matter.

Close your eyes.

Visualize your most favorite place in the world, down to the smell . . . feel . . . taste . . . look . . . and sound of it.

Have your loved one whisper about it in your ears or just hold your hand and be with you.

Before you know it, a minute has passed.  The pain subsides.  You might even look forward to the next contraction so you can go back to that magical place.  Maybe not.

Yesterday, in the office, we took turns, the three of us present, to share where we would go given carte blanche.  Where would we go?  What would we do?  Apparently we would scatter across the states and the globe, doing something we’d love or have always wanted to do, being with whomever we chose.

“I’m happier just thinking about it,” one woman said.

Maybe that’s inevitable.  listen to what your heart wants, let the mind pay attention, feeding it a little detail, and see what happens.

Even today on Facebook during my lunchbreak, I saw a friend post about her happy place, and in the comments I read how other friends were joining her!  We are attracted to what is good, no?  Take an everyday, mundane chore, and let yourself use the time to take a vacation.  Take others with you.  Enjoy it for the moment it lasts, and be happy.

Escapist?  Yes.  But for me, a moment to dream is not a wasteful use of time.  I have dreams.  There is so much beauty in the world.  I need to remember this when life bogs me down, heart and soul.  There is so much more to life than what I can see or even imagine in any given moment, and most of that is good.

For a quick reminder, I have a postcard of a German castle surrounded by mountains and trees in autumn color.  It works.  🙂

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