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.

 

Mom’ish

I’m not even sure anymore what, indeed, is a ‘traditional mother’. I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking I was too untraditional as a parent of two. School letters lay in a towering pile, unopened, until dust made itself comfortable. Sage wisdom and encouraging words came to me always too late for the needed circumstance; sarcasm and humor usually in its stead. Things I was supposed to discipline seemed immaterial while insignificant things loomed too large in my haphazard disciplinary arsenal. ⠀

“You wouldn’t know how to ground me anymore than I would know how to be grounded.” – a line from the movie ‘Easy A’ and one that my daughter pointed out as all-too-accurate for our relationship.

The older I get, however, the more *typical* I am finding those things to be within the brave community of motherhood. I’ve commiserated with other mamas who also felt the things they did – and didn’t do – seemed out of the realms of ‘norm’. I think untraditional is much more traditional than we know. ⠀

My mother was a 7th grade English teacher. She conjugated verbs and added ‘ly’ in all the appropriate places. A bit of her grammar-nazi thinking was eventually passed down to me as well. For that reason, this book title screamed out to me and within 5 minutes it was in my Amazon cart and soon after, on its way to my door. An early Mother’s Day present from me to me. I’ll circle the many recognized lines within its covers and add it to My Funeral file on my computer. (A desktop icon because they’ll never go digging any deeper than that.) ⠀

Don’t use funeral flower gladiolus unless you buy them from Trader Joe’s. Eliminate all cliches from your heartfelt tribute and by all means, if you use a cutesy, curvy font for my birth-death dates I will haunt you and your unborn children for eternity.

Mothers with a loose grip on your mothering style, do yourself a favor and grab this book. ⠀

There’s plenty of room in the margins for copious notes for your offspring…

Calla Lily Ledbetter

I am probably crazy in the head, but I picked up a calla lily yesterday that called out to me from the plant aisle. I’ve never grown one before.

“Try meeeee”, it said.

So I gathered it up – along with a bunch of clearance plants that I couldn’t let just sit there, unadopted and lonely. I think I’ll name her Ledbetter. This is an equal opportunity plant-loving household, after all.

I’m in the process of repotting them all. Giving them fresh new soil (many were SOAKED) and lots of new home loving.

Dirt under my fingernails? Yes, please!

Happy Presidents’ Day to you! I hope you have the day off and are either enjoying a good white sale splurge and/or are blissfully unaware of Presidents’ Day politics or workplace drama.

To calla lily beauty and federal days off.

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.

♥️

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.

Sacred

I remember the Wednesday night youth group so vividly, for some reason. I was in late high school or early college, that part is a little fuzzy. But I’d recently received a new Bible. I said something about it being new at our youth group meeting and a couple of guys in the group (older than me) wanted to see it. To ‘approve’ it.

One of the guys asked, “You’ve already written this much in it??” Another guy grabbed it, looked at it and said (while tossing it back to me), “Nah. She just copied it all from her other Bible.”

I felt immediate, and yet unexplainable, shame. They’d ‘busted me’.

I have thought of that interaction a few times over the years when I’ve purchased a new Bible. As I sit and copy my notes and underlinings from old to new I think, ‘Big freaking deal!! I LIKE reading my old notes. I LIKE that at one point in my life a scripture meant one thing and at another point in life it means something slightly different. I LIKE comparing my growth and understanding! Why did I have to feel any amount of shame for that?!

I love the stubborn SO WHAT that happens as we mature through life. Calling out someone’s BS, even decades later and only in the presence of yourself, is still therapeutic.

For some reason, the little tear in the leather cover of my current Bible became a huge mess during our recent move. The whole front cover is torn up and even though I’ve tried to ‘work with it’, I came to the conclusion the other day that I would certainly need a new Bible sometime soon.

I looked on my bookshelves for a different Bible to use and saw, sitting there, my mother’s Bible.

A sacred piece of my mother who is now gone – renewed to new eternal life after fighting the stupid disease of Alzheimer’s for the last eight years of her life.

My mother. The spiritual giant. The Sunday school teacher. The prayer protector. Her Bible was a sacred book that I’ve cherished having on my bookshelf.

I pulled her Bible down from the shelf and looked it over. It’s been awhile since I’ve flipped through the pages. The thought began to percolate. ‘Could I just use her Bible?’ Would it be impossible to make it my own? Would it feel wrong – like committing the cardinal sin of rummaging through her purse without asking first?

Mom used a red pencil to underline important scripture. (A crossover from her career as a 7th grade English teacher, perhaps?) I usually use a mechanical pencil. Plain ol’ gray lead. I very quickly decided I would adopt her Bible as my own.

So as I have always done, I first transferred my notes and underlinings. Time after time after time I would flip through to the correct reference and, pencil ready in hand, I would start to underline only to find the thin red markings of her own hand. The same scripture. The same yearning to mark this passage as important and timely. What was she experiencing at the time that she underlined those words? What life event was she praying about or worrying her way through? The lump in my throat grew harder and harder to swallow.

It was no surprise to me that she was a Bible-reading, passionate-praying mother of two daughters and four grandchildren. I know full well that our lives have been covered by her petitions before God.

But to write in my handwriting next to her delicate penmanship felt like joining hands together. It felt like an adult woman and an adult woman, combining forces to pray as one for the same people they hold dear. It was invigorating to imagine her struggles and confusion and developing understanding of grace and love from a Father who loves us both. Same ages. Different times.

I began to understand that the thing I was saving as precious and sacred was not the book with the onion-skinned pages, but the cries and struggles and triumphs of the red-lined words from the woman who forged the way before me. It is her spiritual journey that is sacred, not the book that housed the words. The God she served is the same one I turn to in complete frustration as well as amazement and awe. Her imperfection is what stood out to me as I held our now bonded book of promises. Her perfection was always clear and obvious in life. But to imagine her insecurity and imperfection as a mother, a wife, a child, sibling and believer – that is what I needed to see. Uncertainty and falling short – that was something with which I could relate.

Sacred moments are so often dusty and dirty and completely unexpected. They are found in the tiny places in our lives, not in the grand moments of success and accolades. The sacred is quiet and holy and unquestioningly saturated in love and understanding. Sacred is a red pencil in the hands of a faithful believer.

I have looked forward to returning to ‘our Bible’ this week. I imagine her thoughts as I read stories of characters who walked the earth in a much earlier time but that experienced the same moments of humanness that we are still going through today.

I cherish the book, her Bible from years past. But it is her selection of certain passages due to the journey she chose to follow – that is the sacred moment of eternity as I run my own fingers over her red-penciled life.

Finding the sacred among the ordinary. That was the unexpected gift I received as I now hold the same book of truth she held and pray for all those that come behind us. Sure, may they find us faithful. But may they also find us flawed and bruised and worried – but continuing to believe in a God who saw our brokenness, and loved us all the more.

POEM OF THE ONE WORLD
Mary Oliver

This morning
the beautiful white heron
was floating along above the water

and then into the sky of this
the one world
we all belong to

where everything
sooner or later
is a part of everything else

which thought made me feel
for a little while
quite beautiful myself.