Not Closing — or Un-friending

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Some days, I scroll through my Facebook feed and shake my head and wonder if it’s finally time to close my account or maybe just “un-friend” some people.  The negativity, the rudeness, and the narrow-mindedness that others feel free to post out there for all to be infected by amaze me.  As if they aren’t responsible for the impact if it happens online.  As if the words typed onto a screen, in a little box, somehow remove them from being accountable, words they would never have the courage or the disrespect to say to a person’s face, so lightly tapped onto a keyboard and laid out there for the world to collide with.

There have been numerous blogs written about internet accountability in terms of thinking carefully about what you post.  I have found in my own experience that it pays to assess my heart and motives before hitting the “enter” key.  Why am I posting this?  Do I have a hidden agenda, and is it worthwhile?  Will this help someone, improve someone’s day, encourage or tear down?   It also helps to ask if this is something I would say to a person’s face.  Is it worded kindly?  Have I done my best to be clear and concise and address the issue directly at hand?  Have I removed any derogatory terms and name calling?  Do I seek clarity and understanding, or am I trying to make myself look better at the expense of making someone else look bad?  Finally, I also need to determine if this is an issue I really feel called to weigh in on.  Many, many times I have thoughts, comments, or comebacks that fortunately never see the light of my computer screen after I’ve done a little bit of soul-searching and have decided that no, this isn’t an issue I feel passionately about or that could potentially be improved by adding my two cents’ worth.

All that being said, this post isn’t about internet courtesy or critically evaluating what you post.

This post is about how I was touched today, impacted by my friends showing up on their Facebook feeds and having the courage to be authentic.  This post is about how we can improve and inspire the lives around us by using the social media tools at our disposal.

Before my feet even touched the floor this morning, I read Dr. Kelly Flanagan’s post about giving up on his false self, about embracing a life that reflects his genuine self.  That is a passion of mine that I’ve struggled with, wrestled with, and embraced for approximately the past decade, that desire to be real; to offer what I have and not what I think others want or what I would like to give; to be brave enough to own up to my own strengths as well as my weaknesses.  Dr. Flanagan reminded me of that and inspired me again to be that today.

Offer hope

Later on, mid-morning, I checked in and saw the pictures that made me cry, that touched my heart and pushed the pause button on my agenda and brought the preciousness of life very close.  Some friends of mine lost their pre-term baby last year.  They are moving through the stages of grief and loss, and this morning, she posted some of the most precious pictures I’ve ever seen.  Pictures of a beautiful baby girl, 22 weeks along, and of the parents who were so looking forward to welcoming her, but did not anticipate it being so soon, or for so short a time.  My heart broke, thinking of how they must feel, of their pain.  I don’t have words.  I can only weep with those who weep.  I can only hold my two babies a little closer and know that nothing is more precious than the lives and love of those we consider our own.  I can only insist again for myself that the true priorities in life must be just that — prioritized.  Loved ones.  Relationships.  Not “to-do” lists.  Not expectations of other people.  Not money, prestige, appearances.  Loved ones, who are with us for only an unknown shortness of time.

Then another post scrolled up, this one about a popular song that’s trending right now, that spoke of more along that same theme, of living on in the hearts of those we leave behind, those we love, those who share this messy, messed-up, and glorious life with us.  Another song about being nothing without love.  There was a post about kindness; a video about forgiveness and generosity; a news article shared about how we can relate to others in countries torn apart by hatred, racism, and religion.  Another expressed a desire to contribute in the lives of those who suffer from substance abuse; another that spoke out about needing to find a balance in the role of women’s rights vs. women’s repression.

Be kind.

So much interaction and discussion and so much we can learn from each other if we’re willing to keep an open mind and meet with regard to the dignity of our fellow Facebookers, if we refuse to stoop to name-calling, bashing, and stubborn tenacity in the correctness and validity of our own already-decided agendas.

be positive

With all the pain out there, with all the trash and silliness and time-wasting that shows up on Facebook, this is the other side of that coin.  This is why I have an account and why I have no serious intentions of closing it.  It is because, some days I am reminded of life, inspired to courage, encouraged to hope, and touched by the very real, very difficult, very beautiful moments that are going on right now in the lives of those I care about the most.

In spite of the geographical, political, or religious distance between us, Facebook provides a platform where we can meet, touch lives, be informed and taught, offer wisdom and insight, and unite on this journey.  “Together, but not the same” as the Android marketing campaign says.  I like that.  I like that we can be different, but still come together to strengthen and support.  I like that all of our differences can make us stronger, more versatile, and more interesting.  Sameness gets old and boring; unique adds flavor.

I would like to encourage each of you to continue sharing, to continue in the willingness to be heart-wrenchingly authentic, to continue posting your experiences on this Grand Adventure.  And please, remember to keep respect and dignity forefront in your mind, to remember we are all humans, we are all struggling with hard things, we are all searching for a little bit of love to connect and unite and bring us that much closer to those traveling with us.  We all need kindness.  Wisdom.  Humor, just not at the expense of others.  We all need to be inspired to be our better selves, our true selves, to be bold enough to offer what we have to give.  For where would this world be without our unique and specialized gifts?

Now go take on the rest of your day, bringing your authenticity and courage with you.  Spread it about, everywhere.  Directly.  On Facebook.  Be contagious.  Be an agent of epic positivity, speaking life, and infusing others with a tenacious will to live large and take risks and take back methods (like social media) of encouraging others.

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A Modern Word Inspired by Micah

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I have been dissecting one of my favorite verses in Scripture, the 8th verse in the 6th chapter of the letter written by the prophet Micah in Israel.  I have been wondering what Micah would have written and what it would have sounded like if he were alive to be writing in the year 2015 instead of in the 8th century B.C.  The currency of the day, the items of status and worth were mentioned in terms of rams and calves and oil, burnt offerings, and even his firstborn.

Most of that can get a little removed for me, a child of the technological age, cell phones, internet, retirement and hedge funds, stocks, eBay, and luxury cars.  If Micah is considering whether thousands of rams would be a sufficient gift, how do I equate that value, especially if I’m not a big sheep farmer?  What about the oil — olive? crude?  And where will I come up with 10,000 rivers of it this far from the Middle East (or from Greece if we’re needing olives)?  And how large of a river are we talking?

The part about giving the firstborn translates quite clearly across the ages.  As a mother of two, being willing to die for either one, and being distinctly unwilling to part with the first or second born (the phrase “over my dead body” comes to mind), I cringe in reading this part.  If nothing else in Scripture makes God worth worshiping, this does: that he does not require the sacrifice of my children and, in fact, sacrificed his for me.  Micah seems on the cusp of desperation to have included this in his potential list of God-pleasing offerings.  Maybe he included it in order to underscore the next and best part of the letter: that this unspeakably painful thing for any parent is not a requirement from God in order to please him.

I began modernizing this verse in a way that fits into my world, using terminology with which I can readily relate.  (For the purists out there, I’m not claiming this is God-breathed Scripture, or in any way on par with the original, nor am I intending any disrespect out of this paraphrase.)  I began scribbling out modern equivalents on my white board, replacing rams and calves and oil with items of status in our world today, things by which we gauge our worth, our importance, our value.  These are things that bring us a shaky comfort and security, unable to provide a lasting refuge, easily lost, and quite temporary.  We humans are insistent upon surrounding ourselves with such things, with symbols of power, with perceptions and image, and being utterly concerned with how we are viewed in the eyes of those around us.

As guilty as the rest, I have used church attendance, Bible studies, even charitable giving as a means of proving my spirituality to my fellow-man.  I suppose there is some value in that, if we are indeed known by our fruits; but when the heart intends these acts as a means of impressing or of checking off a list of requirements, I think Micah’s message clearly refutes the success of such measures.

In the original verse, nothing condemned the owning of rams, calves, and oil supplies, just as there is nothing wrong with having children.  Whether it is success in business, being wealthy, or being a parent, Micah is not saying these things are wrong or bad.  When I exchanged my own words to fit his criteria, I took that approach as well.

Please take this in the spirit it is intended, not as deeply and infallibly theological, but as a means of identifying more fully with a verse that has aided in clearing up a lot of religiosity and murkiness for me.  Time and time again, it has reminded me to not get the cart before the horse, to keep my love for God central, to allow acts of respect and dignity and good-will to flow outward from there, but never become the basis for my faith.  It has challenged me to be humble and right with God myself before attempting to support events that would be easy for me to make into evidence of my devotion.

Without further ado or explanations, a modern word inspired by Micah chapter 6, verse 8:

“What shall I bring when I come before the Lord and bow before the most high God?  Shall I come with my Day Planner filled with busyness,  my “to-do” lists and my volunteer activities?  Will he be pleased with perfect housekeeping, checks written to the latest “flavor-of-the-month” cause, and flawless church attendance?  Shall I give my honor-roll student, my pride and joy, the one who will carry on my name and through whom I vicariously live, to atone for my insecurity, neuroses, failed diets, and loneliness?  The God who pursues has shown me what is good and what is required of me: To do the right thing (even when it hurts).  To love mercy (as much for others as for myself).  To walk humbly in my relationship with my God (knowing we are all so desperately in need of grace).”

This is enough of a standard to keep me occupied for the rest of my life and yet, light enough to continually renew my soul and relieve my worry and stress.  This is what is good and required of me.  That is all.  Everything else will flow from these simple instructions, with no pretense or fears about impressing and proving.  Light and easy and enough to keep me dependent upon that relationship for all of my days.

You Are Loved

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Three little words today that I hope you realize, way down deep, in the truest part of yourself, words that soak into the cracks in your soul and revive your sinking heart, words that heal and inspire one to dance, words that should never, ever be forgotten, words that I pray ring with loudest authority — and loudest authenticity — to the one who needs them the most on this Valentine’s Day:

You are loved.

Rite of Passage

I am still so caught up in that moment, that perhaps if I take the time to write about it, pausing to choose the right words and visualize it with enough detail to describe it accurately to you, my fellow traveler, maybe my brain will agree to archive that particular book and get back to the details of today.  (Because after all, I still have “mom stuff” to take care of.)

The moment I’m referring to happened last night, during what I can only describe as a rite of passage.  For a couple of months, I have known that Test Night was coming for myself and those in my martial arts class who were ready to advance to the next belt.  We’ve all been practicing, putting in long hours and lots of sweat in order to remember all the stances, forms, and steps.  For weeks, I’ve been excited for this night to come, and then it was here.

Yesterday, in my rational mind, I was fine.  I knew I was ready.  This is what we have been working on, this is what all those evenings of classes were moving toward, and really, what’s the worst that can happen?  Supposing I dropped the ball and failed on an epic scale, I would merely be at the same level I was before Test Night, so no worries; it would take a catastrophic screw-up for that to happen.  Rationally, I thought I would pass with flying colors.

Emotionally, however, I was nauseous.  Thinking about vomiting.  Talking myself down off the ledge.  A whole different story than the rational side of my brain.  A huge part of that apprehension was not knowing what I was getting into.  Our instructors had been preparing us, but they had also emphasized heavily how this was a test.  Best performance, highest level of ability, total effort better be on display this night.

They also, jokingly — I think — put the mop bucket in a convenient location and pointed it out before class, suggesting we use the bucket and not hurl on the floor if it came to that.  I must admit to a slight degree of trepidation at that announcement, thinking back in gratitude over a more advanced fellow student’s advice to eat a light lunch and skip dinner until after the test.

The first half of the test was spent sweating, literally and metaphorically, hoping I could make it, praying I wouldn’t embarrass myself too badly, pep talking all the way about breathing and endurance and this is what I’m here for.  This is why I train.  This is the direction my martial arts education is taking me, and I will be fine.  Never mind my lungs sucking for oxygen or my calf muscles locking up or my stomach muscles refusing to hold that plank another second.

Then, there was the moment when it all started to become fun.  At some point in time, I realized I was ready, that I could do this, that this was one of the things I was meant to do.  My fear and nerves took a back seat and my endorphins were throwing a party in my brain.  This was too much fun, and while the challenge remained to be better, do better, and try harder than ever before, this only brought the level of engagement up, without the worry of not being able to rise to that challenge.

There was a short rest for me, while I watched the higher belts taking turns breaking wooden boards.  This is something I had never done, and hadn’t thought I would be ready to do.  Board breaking was something required of higher belts, more advanced students, an ability that serious martial artists are equipped with and have trained for, and I was not aware that I had reached that level.

Yet, the instructors began calling up my peers, those who are training at my level, and I became aware that one of those boards figuratively had my name on it.  Tonight, I would be breaking my first board, or walking away with it unbroken.

That was the moment I recognized this Test Night as one of my rites of passage.  Wikipedia defines this concept like this:

  1. “A rite of passage is a ritual event that marks a person’s transition from one status to another.”

When I walked into this room, I was scared, nervous, talking to myself about how hard I’ve worked for this and how much I love this and how it will all work out okay.  Throughout the test, my emotions and physiology had fluctuated, rising and falling, starting out timid and hesitant, slowly building in confidence and sensing victory and achievement.  At that moment of facing a wooden board, they stuttered again.  In my mind, this was the break it and make it moment, or the fail to break it and fail to make it moment.  This was a significant transition.  Whereas before I had done everything up till then that I had been tested on, I had never even attempted to break a board.  This was the second where I knew with everything in me, that I could not afford to even consider the failure to break that board.  All my mental preparation had to visualize my foot passing through the wood and out the other side.  Any other mental scenario meant surrender, creating a back door of doubt where it would be possible for me actually walk away with that board unbroken, and that is not what I came here for.

After the test, every single one of us was physically drained, exhausted both from the workout of the two-hour test and from the weeks of mental preparation leading up to it, but every single one of us was wearing a look of confidence and triumph.  Huge grins of relief.  Gratitude.  With it behind us, we were free and clear to celebrate the achievement, the level of commitment and dedication that it took to bring us to this point.  Slowly, through one night of mutual sweating to another, we had gone from strangers and first time acquaintances to friends, comrades, a unit.  One where we cheered each other on and wished each other good luck and told each other “You can do this” or “You’ve got this.”   The veteran higher ranks helped those of us in the lower ranks and when one class member forgot a series in a form, our fellow class members waited and only moved forward when we could all move forward together.  This is camaraderie and friendship and support.  This is what it looks like to grow stronger and more confident and more capable with others in step beside you on the same journey.  This is what it looks like to know there are others stronger and more confident and more capable because they have already stepped on the same path I’m walking, they have been where I am, they are farther along; and that is why they are beside me on this Test Night.  Mentoring, teaching, encouraging, showing us lower ranks the way to climb, the way to look out for each other, the way to inspire.

After months of sweating together, the knowledge that my fellow martial artists were in this together as a group, in spite of the different colors tied around our waists, that we each were silently and sometimes vocally cheering each other on, made this Test Night a ritual.  Made it significant.

To an on-looker, someone who wandered in off the street, all this may have looked impressive — or it may have seemed silly.  To one who hasn’t been there and partook in the investment and witnessed the dedication and the courage, all this may have seemed out of touch with reality, something that has no bearing on our daily lives outside the dojo.

But to one who has been there, has been part of that class and has pushed through the temptation to be tired and to not show up tonight and to give it a little less than the best, and to that one who is testing to see what they are truly made of, all this was a rite of passage.

I congratulated my team mates.  I took long drinks of water and packed my gear and helped sweep up the wood splinters from off the floor.  Slowly my heart rate was returning to normal and my breathing was becoming more relaxed and the sweat was drying from my hair.  But the weight — or perhaps the incredible weightlessness — of this transition stayed upon me.  I felt different.  I felt like I could conquer the world, or maybe just save it.  I felt accomplished.  Confident.  Humbled.  I felt like I had danced with giants and mingled with greatness.  Not because of any one person or any one single accomplishment and certainly not because of my own contribution.  But because as a group, as a team, we had all come together in this place to mark an event, to make an occasion, to make something important visible.

Courage.  Dedication.  Commitment to our art.  Determination to push through, to overcome challenges, to be challenged.  And to do it together.

I bowed to my instructors and thanked them on my way out.  I told them this was a significant moment for me, the first time I had broken a board (in case you were wondering, yes, it broke), and that I would see them tomorrow night.  They assured me I had done well.

The symbolism of this whole evening, along with the adrenaline rush and the twinging muscles, kept me awake long into the night.  If this is what life is like, a picture of our journey through this time and space on Earth, how am I doing?  If we travel together, in packs, giving our best, encouraging, supporting, loving on each other; telling each other, “You are strong, you can do this, you are loved and supported, you are courageous” ; if we grow together and inspire one another and look out for our team mates; if we are testing before an Instructor who has given us the tools and skills and shown us the way to pass this test; if we are seeking the approval and the commendation of “You’ve done well,” then how am I doing on this life test, on this rite of passage?

Nights like last night, Test Night in my local martial arts studio, give me a glimpse of that bigger race.  Nights like last night are a hint, an echo, of the more profound and more significant journey we are all walking.  Nights like last night, where I am surrounded by good will, courage, and a commitment to give it my best, give me the determination to live those moments in the larger world, offering what I have learned in that school to my fellow travelers outside those doors.  To be the encouragement, to say the words, to lead by example, to mentor and support and dare to be bolder and do hard things that may otherwise tempt me to stay small and timid.  Nights like last night are a rite of passage that transition me from where I was before to a little closer to where I intend to end up.

May we all be so blessed as to have those rites.

It’s a Foggy Topic

This morning, I was so wishing I had my camera with me.  I was driving my daughter to school and missed a glorious photo moment.

To backtrack just a bit, I woke to a misty morning, with fog obscuring even the closest neighbor’s house.  Living on the edge of the Mojave Desert has shown me that one can never have too much water (at least not here!) and to be thankful for every drop we get, no matter the form in which it comes.  I love fog.

My daughter had an early class so, armed with my coffee and her backpack and presentation poster, we headed out into the foggy morning for the drive to school.  It’s a short little commute, only about two miles, but what a difference those two miles made this morning.  Within a couple hundred feet of leaving our drive, the sun had started to brighten everything and visibility was improving.  As we climbed the hill out of our residential area, headed for the foothills where the school is, the fog was burning off before our eyes, and in one moment we went from a world of gray mystery, to a cloudless blue sky and sunlight so bright I was squinting.

I dropped her off with the usual “I love you” and “Have a good day” and “Text me when you need picked up” and off she went into the semi-adult world of high school for the day.  And I retraced my journey back home.

As I left the school parking lot and topped the rise, I was in a position to see the majority of our little town spread out before me.  Except this morning, instead of all the sleepy little town, there was a thick blanket of fleecy, opaque white fog laid out over half of it, as if God had tucked us in the night before and had not yet told us it was time to get up.  One side of town was still snug in their fog world, while further up, where I was currently sitting, was basking in brilliant sunlight.

That was the moment I longed for my camera.  I knew I would not be able to capture the panoramic scene before me with the blanket stretching from the mountains to my left all the way to the horizon on my right, and row upon row of windmills in the hills beyond that.  So I had to content myself to just sit and take it in for a few minutes, sipping my coffee.  Soaking up the artistry of such a master Creator, I was inspired to worship.  Such beauty is restorative to my soul.

Further along on my way home, I  drove closer and closer toward that edge of the blanket, with the sunlight diffusing and fading until, once again, I slipped back under it and into the dramatic fantasy world created by the fog.  Steam was rising off the pavement.  Headlights of oncoming cars seemed to float, detached, above the ground for a second or two before the rest of the vehicle became visible.  My house was still hidden and few of my neighbors were stirring.

As I write this, the sun is slowly overtaking the clouds and patches of blue sky are beginning to show through the remaining wisps.  Birds are moving about and making their usual bird calls and our rooster has decided it is time to crow.  It’s shaping up to be another cloudless, brilliant desert morning.  And I am now ready to take on the rest of my day.

Before that, however, I needed to put my glimpse of such glory into words and share it with you, partly so you could see what I saw; but even more, so I would never forget.  When I have mornings that I can’t see the beauty around me, I will need to read again about this morning and remember that even when my eyes are not open to what is around me, even when my sight is obscured by the weight of the details of my life, that beauty is always there, renewed every morning.

Such is the goodness of a God who specializes in creativity and art and is in love enough with me to paint masterpieces in the sky and leave gifts such as fog at my doorstep.

Here’s to the Journal-Keepers!

ei001-3Last night my older daughter messaged me a link via Facebook, recommending I check it out.  This is coming from the daughter who is so similar to me that we sometimes finish each other’s sentences or say the same thing at the same time.  So I figured there would be something there that I was interested in reading.  It turned out to be on a topic near and dear to my heart — journaling.  (You can take a quick side trip from my blog and read the whole thing here.)

Basically, I was high-fiving the world, myself, and all fellow journal-keepers as I read it.  I am currently filling my 42nd journal, having written fairly consistently since I was about 9 or 10 years old.  I don’t tell you my journal count to brag but merely to point out a running track record, sort of like a past employment history section on a job application.  I am an avid, dyed-in-the-wool journaller.  I have learned to take it seriously, in that I realize I need to do it; I have also learned to hold it very lightly, in that it isn’t the grand epic of the world that will one day be published and everyone should read kind of nonsense.  It’s private and personal and worth nothing to anyone apart from myself.  It’s what keeps me sane, keeps me functioning in my family role, and keeps me from having to actively remember everything about my life that I don’t want to forget.  It also helps me forget the things I don’t want to remember.ei002-3

For example, I may be having a crappy day, one of those where everything is harder than it should be, where I feel lonely and misunderstood and maybe even outright targeted, one where the annoyances stack up to the point of tears and not even liking myself or my life right now.  I can sit down and spew it out in my journal, every nagging encounter, every word that was unfairly spoken (either to me or by me), every difficulty, and every minuscule second I had to wait for something when it took far longer than it should have.  I can be as biased or as snarky or as caustic as I like.  I can vent and rage and use harsh language and be unkind.  Then when it’s out on the page, written in .05 very fine blue ink, I can assess how not true that perspective of my day really is.  I can see, written there in plain, but very messy English, where I have taken offense where none was intended or where I share part of the blame or where my reaction was hardly balanced in regards to the original action that prompted it.  It makes my day seem more manageable, contained in a handful of pages.  It makes me see it was one day out of my life, a small part of the overall volume, and now that it is recorded and done, now that I’ve got all out there, I can move on.  I can forget about it. Tomorrow’s a new day that I can focus on with all my heart and intensity because today is over and written down.  It’s literally, on the books.  If I want, I can even write a retake, giving myself the second chance to live that day over again in my mind, and this time, drafting how I wish it could have played out instead of how it actually did, making a defeat turn into a victory.

And the good days… oh, those are the entries where my pen flies with joy and exhilaration, where I smile while I write and know that I want to include every last detail, because someday, I will come back and read this entry and relive this day all over again in high fidelity color.  I don’t want to forget any of it.  I want to include nuance and the exact words and the color of the sky and who and what and where.  When I finish with an entry like that, I exhale in satisfaction, knowing that this day, this great day, has been recorded, never to be lost.

Then there are the days that are neither good nor bad.  Sort of the blah days or maybe the restless days, when I know I need to create or do something or get out of the house for a while.  Or sit down and write about it.  I open my journal and just start writing.  Maybe I start with how I don’t know what to write or maybe I begin describing the unsettled boredom of the moment, but one thing leads to another and I’ve usually worked it and arrived at a place of peace by the time I’m finished.

Stephen King says, “Writing is a wonderful and terrible thing.  It opens deep wells of memory that were previously capped.”  I have found this to be true; in writing to forget and writing to remember, sometimes the words take me to a place I never intended when I sat down and started.  Sometimes there is something inside that needs to come out that I was not even aware of when I took up my pen.

Julia Cameron recommends the “three pages a day” process and wrote a whole book about writing, aptly titled The Right to Write, where she claims that every single one of us has something to say and should feel that we are entitled to say it in writing.  Since writing is my passion, I agree, but with some reservation.

That reservation comes from knowing people who don’t write.  Period.  It is not their thing.  They gripe about having to even scrawl a signature or fill out paperwork.  For them, I understand not wanting to journal; after all, I don’t want to invent some new way of computer coding or discover the way to inhabit Mars.

But, if you’re not a writer, I hope and pray you come to know an outlet of some kind to express your voice, whether it be music or painting or dance or woodshop or designing.  Or discovering how to inhabit Mars, perhaps through complex computer coding.

For those writers out there, let’s do this!  Like the linked article says, let’s do it for our health, for our sanity and peace of mind, and let’s do it for those around us.  Lord knows after I’ve journaled, I am much more stable and clear-headed and can offer myself to my family in a better capacity than if I’m trying to hold all those thoughts together in my head.

And who knows, if I die before I can properly dispose of my stash of journals, my kids may read them and come to know a side of me they never saw before.  Whoa, hold on a minute!  What did that article say in point number 8 about privacy…

ei009-3Okay, all joking aside, this is the bottom line for me.  I hope my writing makes me more true to who I am.  I hope it clarifies my own thoughts for myself so that after I’ve written, I know myself better than I did before and can live a more honest and genuine, authentic version of the mom, wife, daughter, friend I’m supposed to be.  For me, that is the best reason of all to journal.

Life is Still So Good

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Once again, I’m settled in my corner at my desk with my laptop open, my books and papers spread before me, and already working through my second cup of coffee.  One daughter is delivered to her classroom for an early day on campus (charter school/home school arrangement for those of you who don’t know), and the other is still sleeping.  My loyal little dog is curled up at my feet, buried in a queen-sized bedspread that we lovingly call “Franken-blanket,” due to all the stitching and repairs that I made on it before we eventually passed it on to the dog.  It’s his safe place: close to me, cuddled up in fluff.  Permanent Roommate just texted from work to wish me a better day than yesterday (when I spent close to 3 hours working on electronic problems, talking with tech support, and taking two steps back for every one forward).  And it’s raining outside.  When you live in the desert, every drop is a call for celebration.

(I think that might be a metaphoric statement pertaining to my inner soul as much as my outer environment.)

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In the silence of my house, I contemplate my life.

Yesterday was a rough one.  I already mentioned my computer issues.  Then there was an errand that should have taken 15 minutes and took more than twice that.  Laundry and housecleaning day had come around again; it has this annoying cycle of doing that every week.  And my younger daughter is coming down with the head cold.  I’ve been coming up short with ideas to write about, feeling that nagging lack, hearing that voice that says “You’re not a writer.”  And… I could go on.  Every single one of us struggles with things in life that hurt, that set us back, and sometimes even devastate us.  We all have hard things to deal with.

It’s tempting to hold up my hard things in life and compare them to others.  Sometimes I feel vindicated: Look!  This is a really tough thing to deal with, and no one I know is having to fight so hard just to make it work!  

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However, most times, when I look up from my own small world and around at others, I am humbled and reminded of my so many, many blessings.  So many indescribable moments of happiness, joy, provision, hope.  There is a lot of hurt on this planet and many who have it worse off than I do.  In spite of electronics that don’t turn on like they should and burned toast and having to get up earlier than I wanted, I have a family who supports me, loves me, and cheers me on.  I have a little black dog who adores me.  I have a warm house in which to sit and watch the life-restoring rain outside my windows.  I have food and clothes and friends and freedom.  I am blessed.  Life is so good.

So while I’ve spent a lot of time this past week, casting about for new blog topics and reading and searching for inspiration and wondering what I’ll write about next, in the quiet time this morning, it occurred to me that there doesn’t need to be a big occasion or a profound revelation to take a few minutes to be thankful.

After a day like yesterday, I have a new chance to start over.  Today can be different and, thank God we all get the opportunity to reset every 24 hours, taking another run at this extreme life we’ve each been given.  Rather than putting off my writing because I can’t think of anything grand to write about, I’m choosing to write about the small stuff, the little things, like being loved, like having enough, like being enough, like basking in a life that, in spite of hard things, is still so good.

Maybe those aren’t the little things at all, but rather the most important things.

Frost Inspired Gratitude

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Frost all around.  Steam rising from every surface, creating a mist that hovers in the low places.  So beautiful… and cold.

I think of the man with his pack sitting on the park bench last night on my way home.  I hope he was only waiting for a ride and not planning to spend the night there.  I wondered that on my way by.

I wondered it again this morning.  My heart goes out to anyone who has to struggle to spend a night in weather like this.  Although it’s a naive hope, I wish no one had to, that every single soul was able to find warm lodging, that no one was left, literally, out in the cold, on a night like this past one.

I wonder what difference it would make, if it would change even one life, if I went out and bought a sleeping bag or a blanket and found someone who needed it.  I wonder at the circumstances that have led me to be where I am and the homeless woman to be where she is, and I marvel at the seeming randomness of it all, at my immense privilege to be the one sitting in a warm place, wondering.

And feeling unworthy of all I have been given, I breathe a prayer: Thank you, God, for my unmerited blessing.

An Eye for Lost Treasure

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My friend Rachel has an eye for seeing the value in things overlooked.  She has the ability to spy a left-over object or an unused item and see the potential in it.  A stack of rebar, an old railroad tie, and a piece of rough-cut wood becomes an incredible coffee table.  In her garage, several partially completed projects awaiting one more coat of paint or another round of sanding are masterpieces in process.

Had I seen them in the thrift shop, they would have been just another discarded piece of junk.  In Rachel’s garage, they called me to take a second look and marvel over the beauty and functionality she had coaxed from them.  No longer rejects, sitting in the trash pile, overlooked as worthless.  No longer a thrift store bargain, but now upscale, artsy home decor to be found in a high-end shop.

The walls of her dining room display several pieces of her original art, one of which was a painting of a woman, face upturned, basking in the rain with her red umbrella neglected at her side.  I don’t know Rachel’s vision when she painted it, but knowing Rachel, I saw a woman soaking up grace, refusing to hide — even under the shelter of a socially accepted umbrella — standing in the puddles, reveling in the life-giving shower, living, drenched and immersed.

This past week, I’ve thought a lot about those treasures.  I’ve noticed that I have been inspired to create and explore my own artistry.  I’ve looked at my surroundings differently.  And isn’t that one of the critical by-products of living with purpose and passion, that we see things from a new perspective?

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And I’ve thought a lot about myself, in terms of lost treasure.  You see, I believe Rachel is a reflection of an ancient, wise, and infinitely skilled Artist.  This Creator moves with purpose, sees the overlooked, and specializes in the rejected and the discouraged.  This Craftsman has an eye for lost treasure, peels beneath the worn and faded exterior and draws out the value in a piece that has long since been passed over, gifted in breathing new life into those who have been given up on, those who have given up on themselves, and those who have been pushed to the side as worthless.

With loving care, a new coat or another gentle sanding is applied, and the dust is blown away, revealing a breath-catching glow that had been there all along.  The “worthless” now has worth; the value of the devalued has been restored; the cast off has been retrieved, reinstated as a showcase in the home of the artisan.

Seeing Rachel’s passion, I was reminded of my life, redeemed and restored.  Pursued and sought out by a master craftsman with an eye for lost treasure, I have been given a second chance; I have had life breathed back into me and been rejuvenated to better reflect the vision and intention of the one who saw the potential I had and invested of his own time and materials to unveil the beauty that was hidden.

This is why we must create.  This is why we must sing and dance and design model airplanes and decorate cakes and write code and play basketball well and never give up on becoming who we were meant to be.  Because in being true to the purpose for which we were made, we reflect glory.  We shine brightly, our lives telling the story of a master who wants every single one of us to flourish and to grow and to embrace every aspect of this thrilling life we have been given.  Just as a beat-up and lovingly restored piece of furniture owns character, so too, do our lives as they’ve been through the shop of the Restorer and sent back out with hope and courage, immersed in grace.

… and with an eye of our own out looking for lost treasure.
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A New Year, A Fresh Start — Recommiting

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I’ve been thinking the best way to start out this new year is to publish another blog post.  For anyone who has visited my site lately, it’s easy to see I’ve taken a sabbatical, with my most recent post being last September.

I’ve been in a silent stage, at least publicly.  I still journal madly, as writing is my way of processing and understanding and creating.  But on this blog, I’ve stalled out; I log on, stare at the screen and think, Not today.  And those are just the days when I actually make it that far.  There were lots of days in between where the thought of my blog would cross my mind and I would actually think, I should take that down, close it out, make it go away.

And I don’t think I even know why entirely.  I’ve had friends ask me why I quit blogging, and I don’t have an answer.  I ask myself the same question and try to be still enough to let the reason rise within me.

There are several thoughts that come to mind, but none of them are the reason in itself.  If I had to make an attempt to explain my silence, I would have to say there has been an overwhelming aversion, a distinct cloud of negative feelings when I consider writing for the public consumption.  It’s scary.  It’s vulnerable.

I haven’t had any harsh feedback or been told my writing sucks.  No one has been rude or hurtful about things I wrote.  In fact, quite the opposite.  I’ve had overwhelming support from my kids, from Permanent Roommate, and from others who keep an eye on my blog.  They have encouraged and confirmed and inquired as to my mental state about why I stepped back.

I think it’s safe to say that the Resistance (to use a Stephen Pressfield term, from his awesome book The War of Art), came from within myself.  I never want to sacrifice authenticity on the altar of publicity.  I never want to have to filter out my thoughts or my words in order to please my reading audience.  I don’t want to project an image of having it all together or even of falling apart worse than I already do sometimes.  I want honesty, not drama.  I want to write from the heart, with words that accurately and adequately describe my thoughts, feelings, beliefs.  I want to include both my absolute truths (of which I have very few) and my deepest questions of doubt (of which there are a lot).

It has been life-sustaining to keep my journal because I have no filter there, no words I can’t write, no thoughts too dark or too far-out, no dreams too large, no question too subversive.  I can write exactly what comes to my mind and know there’s safety in never having another soul critique it or look at me through different eyes for having seen what really does go through my mind and bleed out onto my paper via my pen.

But to remain content with only my private journal as my platform seems like a concession to cowardice.  It seems too small and safe and risk-averse.  Another one of my favorite parts of Pressfield’s book is near the end when he talks about whatever your gift, get it out there.  Share it.  Refuse to be selfish.  Contribute for the good of humanity, for your children, for yourself… I can hardly read that part without a lump and tears forming and a mild case of the shivers running over me.

Perhaps that was the catalyst in identifying why I’ve been silent on my blog; reading his words made it come to mind immediately, and I knew somehow he had touched on a very sensitive nerve in relation to my writing.

In the section of his book I’m referring to, he says something about “shaming the angels and spiting the Almighty who created you and only you with your gift”.  The way we do this, in his opinion, is to hoard our creativity, in whatever form it takes.

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I think we have a very hard time seeing our own gifts for what they are.  I love photography and beauty.  So for me, to take a picture that makes me inhale sharply upon seeing it… that can’t possibly be a talent or a gift; that’s merely me having fun, doing what I was born to do, expressing myself in an artistic outlet.

Stop and read that sentence again…  “that’s merely me having fun, doing what I was born to do, expressing myself in an artistic outlet.”

Of course, that’s a talent and a gift!  What else could it possibly be?  I have seen millions of photographs (and taken so many myself) that cause no reaction inside, have no effect on my life, because they are average, normal, or even terrible.  It takes no special skill or passion to take a snapshot.  But to take a breath-inhaling masterpiece (of which I’ve taken far too few), takes a love of the craft.  It takes an eye that sees what most people don’t.  It takes an artist.

I have a friend who paints wonderful scenes on canvas and another who dabbles in graffiti (only in sanctioned places, of course!) and another who just built an heirloom shelf that will outlive himself because of the time, attention to detail, and outpouring of himself that he invested in the crafting of it.  It’s a gift for his sister.  Anyone looking at it would never hesitate to believe that’s quite a gift.  Permanent Roommate can take flat, boring, bare pieces of wood and begin sanding and forming and shaping them into the most incredible model airplanes that not only impress with their looks, but fly remarkably well.  And he loves it; leave him alone in his garage workshop for a week and he can produce masterpieces.  I follow the blog of a woman who lives locally in my small town and she rides her bicycle to the quilt shop on Main Street, where she picks out colorful fabrics and threads and takes them home where she then proceeds to cut and arrange and stitch, transforming them into warm works of art we call quilts.  I could go on and on, talking about chefs who create food art; or welders who sculpt and fashion with metal, of all things; or great musicians who are so adept at touching our emotions through music.

The bottom line is that we are a race of extraordinarily creative beings, made in the image of a Creator God who is beyond words in his role of Artist.  And I have no trouble at all identifying, praising, and basking in the skills of others.  There’s nothing quite so thrilling to watch someone do something I cannot in such a way as to know they were born to do it.  It is easy to see when a master craftsman is at play…

…when it’s someone else.

So often, we do not recognize, acknowledge, or consider our own talents to be anything special.  We don’t realize they are what make us unique, sets us apart from each other, and that we desperately need to contribute those individual skills.  We need to gift the rest of the human race with our gifts.

When we lose sight of this, I think we tend to draw back.  Personally, I think, Anyone can write.  Everyone has thoughts of their own, and who cares what mine are?  Why should I clutter the internet and take up someone else’s time by writing what is most likely going through everyone else’s mind already?  Who cares?  Downplaying and excusing the gift.  And oddly enough, at that same time asking, What if I can’t do it well enough?  What if I can’t find the words to adequately express?  What if I write too much for the audience and lose the integrity of writing what is within?  What if I fail?  What if I succeed?  

Those are scary thoughts.  Putting yourself out there in the form of your art is vulnerable, and vulnerability is terrifying.  It is being naked and exposed in front of everyone in an area that is so close to our hearts and our true selves that should we take an arrow there, we feel we may never recover.

All this is written in part to explain my silence.  All this is what I’ve been thinking since September.  All this is why I’ve unleashed my words only in my journal, apart from reading eyes.  All this is why I toyed with the thought of taking that dang blog down permanently and kicking myself for ever thinking I had something to say that anyone else would ever care to read.

I recently read Glennon Doyle Melton’s book Carry On, Warrior and in it she said, “Reading is my inhale and writing is my exhale.” And I said, “YES!  I get that!”  It may become my life motto, an explanation for who I am, my introduction at meeting new people.  (Well, maybe not, but that’s how closely I related to her words.)  And she pleaded with those who have a gift, whether it be writing or dancing or singing, to please do it. 

With friends, family, fellow authors and artists, all seeming to scream out the same message — Do it!  Share your gift!  Contribute!  Create!  Refuse to be silent and live small! — it eventually began to sink in.  I had kept my inner fire and the accompanying dragon caged inside long enough, letting it out only for carefully scheduled play dates in my journal.

Maybe this new year is the perfect time to release that dragon and let it romp around free and see what we can come up with.  One thing is for sure: now is the time we are given.  Now is what we have to work with.  Yesterday is gone and beyond our changing.  Tomorrow is even more uncertain than the gift we may or may not know we have.  Today is my day to create.

In the photo at the top, I thought of these past few months as like the tight bud on the left: closed, immature, and not yet ready to open.  And there’s an appropriate time, or maybe even many times, for that.  But the bloom on the right is what I would like to more closely resemble in the future: open, brilliant, offering the gift of its beauty and brightness and contributing what it has to give in whatever form it takes, worrying not about what others may look like or what they are offering or how they compare.

Simply being and doing and giving, living life by being who I am and who I was created to be.  Today.  No matter how scary or vulnerable or difficult.  No matter whether I see my contribution as special, unique, or worthy.  Trusting the message of those around me and the conviction that I have of their gifts, to see me through the crafting of my own.

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