Learning the rhythm of relaxation…

It was an unseasonably cool day today. I know I have a long way to go with the California heat (and truly, I’ve enjoyed the warmth of it) but it’s also nice to have an incredibly cool day with the windows open wide.

We are excitedly anticipating a big group of family coming to see us at the end of the month. But of course that means projects and to do lists. Admittedly, I love to have looming projects ahead. I love the challenge of overcoming and conquering the unknown.

But I am learning more and more the value of stopping. Sitting for a few minutes. No, not just sitting but sitting and unwinding the Monkey Brain of mental activity even when physical activity has momentarily stopped.

“Destroy the idea that you have to be constantly working or grinding in order to be successful. Embrace the concept that rest, recovery, reflection are essential parts of the progress towards a successful and happy life.” – Zach Galifianakis

We DVR’d and watched the CNN show, Chasing Life, last night. Dr. Sanjay Gupta travelled to Norway – in the midst of their three month period of 24/7 darkness – to find out where they find their happiness (consistently ranked the Happiest Nation in the World.)

It was fascinating to hear their stories. Stories thick with personal challenge and empathy for others. Kindergarten classes held in the forest with little play supervision. Can you imagine a U.S. classroom teacher allowing their students to climb high trees?! It made me cringe to watch. And yet the students developed such a strong sense of independence and self-confidence. Not to mention how they helped each other through the process of play.

Dr. Gupta interviewed a ski-survivor. After a horrific ordeal in frozen water…heart stopping for several minutes…she was now alive and participating in all sorts of sports. When asked if she was back 100% her reply floored me:

“I’m not 100% but I am 100% of what I need.”

Do I have 100% of what I need? It is a worthwhile question to hold close for awhile.

As so many others in the world, I have felt such a heavy loss with the sudden death of author, Rachel Held Evans. And just like others, she represents such a moment of hope for me. I was at a crossroads when I found her blog. Having been brought up in a strongly conservative christian church, I was feeling at odds with what I understood God to be and how He was represented within the Church as a whole.

Rachel merged the contradictions for me. She led me through the difficult process of letting go of human church expectations and pointed me more fully to the face of my Heavenly Father. To compassion and forgiveness. To acceptance of all humans as possessing equal value in the eyes of God. I was challenged to look at the periphery of life and notice those that were being left out of the public conversation.

I have been simultaneously grieving her 37-year-old-wife-mother-of-two-young-babies presence in the world while also feeling challenged. When such a strong human advocate leaves a void, how is it best filled?

And with any tragedy, it shook my priorities. I spend more mental space than I care to admit on what my next Instagram picture will be. It suddenly seemed so meaningless. I mean, let me be clear: being on Instagram is not meaningless. Finding inspiration is never unnecessary. Nor sharing inspiration. But the amount of mental space it takes up in my mind is silly.

Everyone knows blogging is dead. Yes. I realize that’s a commonly accepted thought. In my heart of hearts I think it might experience an uprise as people tire of quick and easy and return to a deeper delve into thought and ideas.

I am not good at vulnerability. While I don’t believe in divulging everything to everyone, I would like to go back to a time that I was more open and honest with my blog readers. A braver time. I think there are areas in my life that might be similar to others. Things we tend to brush under the carpet and smile relentlessly.

Wouldn’t it be easier if we tried to work through some of that together? There is a place for frivolity and fiction in life. It’s good to sit back and relax. It’s necessary. But I’ve spent too much time in the realm of easy lately. Self-examination has fallen by the wayside; too wide of a pendulum swing.

Iron sharpens iron we are told. I need your input and advice. I value it. I need to re-learn to do life in partnership with others.

Drawing from Dr. Gupta’s discoveries: Challenges give us confidence and self-worth. It stimulates creativity. Spending time in nature, exercising, developing deeper empathy for others – all foundations of happiness.

I’m up for the challenge. How about you?? We need to take care of each other.

 

PLACEMAKER by Christie Purifoy

I am currently reading this beautiful book by Christie Purifoy, Placemaker: Cultivating Places of Comfort, Beauty and Peace. The book releases in mid-March 2019 and will be a soothing balm for our overly-stressed, multi-tasking souls.

Placemakers is for the home lover. The outdoor admirer. The family gatherer. The story collector. For the past decade I have felt very strongly that one of my biggest roles in life is to create a welcoming home. My regret? That I didn’t embrace this role stronger when my children were young. Perhaps that is a natural occurrence for many of you as well. When your babies are young, there is so much clutter and lack of sleep. As they mature, there seems to be nothing but running and doing. Concerts and sports events. Home tends to be a quick landing spot between the lines of your to do list.

But the older I get, the more I realize the respite that is home. It has been my passion to create a soothing and calm place for Scott to land after a 12-hour day at work. Even in writing that line I am aware of how genteel and old-fashioned it sounds. Perhaps even egotistical. I balk at the pollyanna nature of it, but I know in my heart that it is the mission I have been given. Does this sound anti-feminist? I certainly hope not as I stand here a proud feminist. We too often acquaint progressive women’s rights with doing and becoming. But the true essence of the movement is to create space where women can become anything they wish to become – which does not exclude the role of supporting and encouraging those we love. But it isn’t all done just for my family. Beauty and consistency makes my own soul feel calm and settled.

We plant seeds or saplings in neat rows. We prune limbs, and we tend the soil. We do not make the trees, but we make a place for them.

I did not have a word for the role I play until Purifoy so elegantly termed it: placemaker.

When I was first married and moving into our apartment (my first home ever away from my childhood home and college dorms), I found great pleasure in creating a homey home. I remember one of my friends came over for the first time and as she left she commented: “Your home doesn’t look like you just moved into it. It looks as if you’ve lived here for years.” I considered this a huge compliment – and still one of my favorites.

For friends and family to find a place that evokes feelings of warmth and welcome – that is my greatest joy. I am (…to a fault and the butt of many jokes…) constantly tweaking things around our home. And now, with the California weather, our backyard is merely an extension of our physical house. I am invigorated by dirt and the care of each plant and tree. I grieve when they die and I feel empowered when I can help to save them.

Making and tending good and beautiful places is not a dishonorable retreat. It is a holy pursuit. We were never meant merely to consume the gifts of creation. We were made to collaborate. We were made to participate. This book is an invitation to reconsider your own relationship to the ground beneath your feet and roof over your head.

I expected this book to be a pretty addition to our coffee table. How surprised I’ve been to find the girth of insight and encouragement I’ve found between its pages. A book that I could probably ‘whip out in a day’ has become a slow and methodical read – filled with underlined words and many pauses for reflection. And sometimes shouts of ‘YES!, that’s exactly how I feel!’

You can pre-order the book now. I strongly suggest you rush to your favorite book-selling site to grab one for yourself.

Meanwhile, I continue to read…

Can I tell you about something kind of cool that happened to me?…

Let me first say that I’m not posting any of this for sympathy or trumped-up praise. Please know that from my heart.

There are areas in all of our lives where we feel confident and strong – and other areas in which we lack inner strength.

I’m not sure if it’s my personality or the fact that I am a person with a bent toward creativity. Whatever the case, my confidence in my ability to write is always low. I enjoy it. I get the buzz, not unlike the endorphin rush of a runner (I’m told.) People have periodically encouraged me to write. But there are soooo many really great writers in the world. And I don’t just mean famous ones. I am lucky enough to know some extremely talented wordsmiths that work other jobs and fit it in when they can. I truly respect and admire their talent.

So every time I sit down to write, I face two paths:

  1. Be overwhelmed with all the immense talent already out in the world – and sit back and hide, or
  2. Try to be brave, sit down, and write anyway. Just for the discipline of writing.

Again, I don’t mean to sound pathetic. But it is a real and immense struggle for anyone faced with creating something from nothing. And especially when it involves personal reflection.

Yesterday I wrote a book review post on this blog. I posted a condensed version of it on my Instagram. I wrote it the day before, posted it early in the morning, and then went on with my day.

A few hours later I popped back on Instagram while waiting on a load of laundry to finish drying and found a message from Jon Cohen, one of the authors I mentioned in my blog post regarding his endearing book, Harry’s Trees. In his message he pointed out a section of text I wrote:

This book celebrated the freedom of forgiveness. The adventure of reading. The beauty of nature. The cost of holding on to self-perpetuated ‘truths’. The ripples of redemption. And as with every good story, it contained an enchanting touch of magic.

He commented:

I like the cogency and rhythm of your words, particularly, in the paragraph that starts, “This book celebrated . . .”

It’s just a little line. A line that instantly brought fat tears to my eyes. (Not a usual reaction for me.) My throat clenched shut and I sunk back into myself.

I reread the line. (And in 2019 style, I did a quick screenshot of it on my phone as if it could disappear into the ethers at any given moment. Like perhaps I was imagining it.)

It wasn’t a spouse or a parent or a friend online saying it. It was a published author I respect, commenting positively on my writing. I cannot find the words at the moment to convey the significant importance I felt while reading it. I had a small, but brief, moment of feeling like Sally Fields at the Oscar’s. Or more recently, Kalen Allen’s reaction when Oprah commented on his Instagram post.

He could have said, ‘Thanks for the great review’ and I would have been impressed he even found my post and glad he commented on it. But after thanking me for the review, he took it a step further and returned a small amount of praise to me as well. It was a quick comment that left a big footprint on my squishy, self-effacing heart.

I have so much to learn about writing as well as finding the confidence enough to push ‘publish’. We are so accustomed to seeing articles and reading online posts nowadays that it is easy to dismiss the immense amount of bravery it takes for the writer to go public with their words. It can be a suffocating and stifling fear.

—–

What an amazing moment of pure, unadulterated joy. Especially because when writing, I particularly like the flow of words. I edit when a sentence seems to lack a particular rhythm and musical cadence. That’s something that’s very important to me.

And yesterday, a published writer commented specifically on that trait. 

I must tell you. It felt really, really good…

If you get the chance today – encourage the Creatives in your life. They need it more than you’ll ever know. It’s not easy being them. Their mind is always at battle with their ability. They need your affirming words.

♥️

BECOMING by Michelle Obama

“No matter your political beliefs…” is a phrase I have come to loathe. It invariably is followed by a veiled political view.

That said, politics can be pushed aside when reading Michelle Obama’s book, Becoming.

The book gives a strong foundation from Michelle’s childhood to the breadth of work she did before ever entering the political spotlight. She and Barack were truly people who came from hard-working families and rose to the highest seat in our country.

But Michelle also dished. She seemed to understand that people want to know what it’s like to have a husband largely absent from family life. What was it like to campaign and hear all the negative things said about your husband?! How did she balance travel and kids and the transition to – and then from – the White House? She describes some of the things found in a presidential motorcade which was TOTALLY interesting to me! Things like, oh, a canon in the car! Or the blood type of the sitting president which travels with him should he ever need a blood transfusion. Whaaaa?!

I listened to this book via Audible. Michelle Obama reads it herself (which was like having her sitting in my living room telling me stories.)

I borrowed the first picture in this post from @becauseofthem because this scenario is what I imagined so often throughout the book. I would get teary-eyed and proud of America but then I would think, ‘What must it be like as a black child seeing their face for the first time in the White House?!’ It made me tear up every time I’d think about the historical moment that we witnessed as Americans together.

Easily a 5 out of 5 stars for this memoir. Michelle doesn’t disappoint when it comes to feelings and struggles she dealt with in the rise of and the creation of a spouse becoming a president and a wife becoming a First Lady.

Very interesting. Highly recommend. ……no matter your political beliefs.

mundane joy

“We all need the reminder that the next generation is watching and waiting to be inspired by the love story of ordinary life lived out faithfully.”⠀

It really doesn’t matter your age – there are always younger-than-us beings who are watching your face. Checking to see when your eyes get panicky or your brow wrinkles with concern. What makes your smile curl in mischievousness or your pupils widen with delight.⠀

If we are always showing only our best – the glitziest parts of our lives – how will those we are mentoring (even unknowingly) learn the pure joy found in ordinary moments? The simple, everyday things that make our souls feel warm and welcomed home? ⠀

How will they know the vigilant process of working through disagreements with our spouses and loving (if not currently liking) them throughout? Or what about the long-suffering patience of growing with your children through their various stages – needy, obstinate, then sweet?⠀

Lifting the veil on our ordinary lives allows those behind us to see that boredom and monotony are one of the many rhythms of life.⠀

We have a responsibility to set a good example for the next generation. Sure, of bravery and doing hard things. But also of being persistent and consistent through the ordinary and the routine – even when it’s tedious and mundane. ⠀

We are walking each other home, Rumi tells us. That’s a pretty good resolution for 2019: showing up to load the dishwasher or run the extra mile with someone who needs a trusty pacesetter. We are all in this glorious life adventure together. Let’s step out of our lane occasionally and walk side by side with the companions we’ve been given in life – from co-worker to grocery store clerk to neighbor next door. Don’t rush through or shirk back. Step up beside and walk together for awhile. You have a great deal of knowledge to share. And if you’re lucky, even more to learn.

POET X

“The pages of my notebook swell from all the words I’ve pressed on to them. It almost feels like the more I bruise the page, the quicker something inside me heals.”⠀

Without question, Poet X will be in my top five favorite books I’ve read this year. ⠀

I am such a fan of the performance art of spoken word. Many decades ago, my mother ‘gave readings’. The art of performing words is unique and celebratory and deeply moving. Mom was asked often to perform her pieces and I was honored to give one of them at her funeral. ⠀

Poet X is about a high school student discovering the art of slam poetry. She doesn’t seem to fit anywhere in her world but lives within the words of her journals and poetry. When describing her intelligent twin brother: “He is an award-winning bound book where I am loose and blank pages.” An English teacher convinces this quiet girl to join the poetry club. After much hesitation, she finally joins and finds not only friends and acceptance but ultimately finds her voice.

There is only one other book I would suggest people listen to the audio version over the written word – ‘Ava’s Man’ by Rick Bragg. The ‘Poet X’ is another book that is enhanced by listening to the author’s reading of it. She reads it in an almost spoken word style. It is melodious and inspiring. I can not recommend it highly enough.

“Every time I think about Amon, poems build inside me. Like I’ve been gifted a box of metaphor Legos that I stack and stack and stack. I keep waiting for someone to knock them over.”⠀

“When she asked how I was doing, the words trip and twist their ankles trying to rush out of my mouth.”⠀

This YA book will live for a very long time in my soul. It found a crack and crawled right in. It is beautiful and powerful and a must for your to-be-read list. ⠀

One final quote of personal interest. I am lovingly referred to a ‘g’ by my friends so imagine my grin at her own reference: ⠀

“X. I love this new nickname. How it’s such a small letter but still fits all of me.”

Rain, rain, go…away?

We are preparing for rain, here in Northern California, not unlike our preparations for snow in Missouri. Bringing in the delicate items, the lamps and tchotchkes that shouldn’t get soaked. We conjured up a lean-to to cover my succulent garden, as @inspirelovely would suggest. ⠀

My friends know how much I do not like rainy days. They mess with me. I so wish I was the person who grabs a book and a comfy spot for reading. I used to have a friend who felt creatively inspired on rainy days and could produce content ten times faster. But my spirit lags in overcast weather. I have to work a little harder to keep my mind and heart buoyed. ⠀

Obviously this is a huge benefit to living in California. Each and every day the sun comes out, the skies are blue and the clouds are fat and fluffy. Every. Single. Day.⠀

I’ve learned a valuable lesson, however, in our two months living here. Everything – sidewalks and porches and cars and plants and highways – everything is dusty. When a bird relieves himself on your sidewalk, it stays there. The smog and dust of living builds up in deep layers. ⠀

There is an importance in rain. A washing away. A starting again. A renewed and fresh shine, left in its wake. Rain serves the purpose of watering and feeding nature, sure. But it also gives our everyday surroundings a much-needed facelift. ⠀

This particular rain is an important one. The wildfires have caused so much damage, even far beyond the point of burn. Our atmosphere needs cleansing so our lungs can breathe fresh clean air.⠀

Rain as rejuvenation. As renewal. Washing away the ugly. The discarded. The build-up. Leaving behind a squeaky clean new beginning. ⠀

So instead, I will lean into this rain with a new understanding. And when low-spirits lurk, I will check on the succulents in their safe tent and know we are all going to be just fine.