Thankful Thursday – Growing Happy

Where did I read it? Magazine, blog, online news article…?

Anyway, last weekend I read, somewhere, that those who study these things have shown three significant factors that affect brain chemistry to increase the feelings of happiness:

Gratitude
Laughter
Good people

Gratitude: find three unique things for which you can be grateful each day.

I unearthed my misplaced gratitude journal beneath a stack of mislaid papers on my too-messy desk. What an inconsistent adventure this year of gratitude has been… I started out strong, but I easily let life get out of control and let other things get in the way. I miss a few days, write for a few days; miss a week, write for three, miss a month, and so on. Well, I’m back at it, and I will say I look forward to recording my three thanksgivings each day and I do feel happier for having done it. It helps me remember life’s little moments, the funny things my kiddo says, the flower I noticed on my walk, the simple evening ritual of tea and book and a solid bedtime.

Laughter: always the best medicine

Way back when toward the beginning of our relationship, the Indigo Girls sang a line that rang true of one of the gifts Guy has given me: “And the best thing you’ve ever done for me is to help me take my life less seriously…”

I tend to be a wee bit dramatic. I lead from my heart. I can be impulsive and feel easily overwhelmed. And early on we recognized that my inclination to take life too seriously could be balanced by Guy’s easy-going, life-embracing stability. Like his bouncy hero, Tigger, he makes me laugh. 

I need to intentionally seek out cheerful people and opportunities to laugh. Silly sitcoms and light-and-fluffy books scattered in-and-between educational and moving programming.

Yesterday, just before I was to lead a meeting, I caught the giggles and it spread to my co-workers on either side. I’d gain control, and one or the other of them would burst out laughing again. It took a while for us to calm down. I am grateful for those minutes of gut-clenching hilarity.

Good people: “Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.” (Helen Keller)

In this season of life, I notice that I am just not in a party mood. I don’t want to make small talk (I never want to make small talk, but on occasion I am grudgingly willing). But I still need my friends, connection, good people.

Before this school year began, I decided to clear space once a week to share intentional conversation with someone. And, for the last two months, I have had coffee or tea or a walk or lunch with someone who would not have appeared across the table or shoulder-to-shoulder if I hadn’t scheduled it. In practicality, it’s been an easier decision than I’d anticipated. And it has deepened friendships and added so much joy to my life, and hopefully to theirs as well.

Today over lunch with a friend with whom I haven’t talked in far too long, I took it one step further. I decided to share these happiness points, and to ask what she would include on her gratitude list. Not surprisingly, it took the conversation in even deeper, more vulnerable and lovely directions.

Gratitude + Laughter + Good people = Happiness. Easy enough.

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The Sad Song

I had a rare treat last weekend: a Barnes & Noble sat across the street from the hotel where we stayed. Since most bookstores in our area have closed, I relished the opportunity to spend an hour meandering, collecting a stack of books that attracted my attention for various reasons, and sitting in a corner with them, slowly turning pages.

One book addressed our fear response to life’s hard times. The author wrote, “We habitually spin off and freak out when there’s even the merest hint of fear. We feel it coming and we check out…The most heartbreaking thing of all is how we cheat ourselves of the present moment” (Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart).

Yes, and yes. Life is hard. We feel badly. We check out and cheat ourselves.

Or we could not. Listen to my friend Mike advocate for a different approach…

re:create recess #19: Mike Loretto

I might be a little bit odd.

I had this thought recently when I was feeling the need for a break–for recreation–and my first impulse was to reach for…

…the saddest music I could put on.

I love sad songs. I love them. And I love them because–hang with me now–they make me feel sad. I actually love feeling sad. I know. It’s weird.

When I’m in the thick of the busyness of life and feel that internal prick of “I need to recreate, to play,” I have learned that some of the things that felt like recreation when I was younger don’t call to me as much. In those needful moments, I still might reach for the remote control, a tennis racket, a video game, a drink, a book, or any number of other things. Some of the time those things are the right decision; some times they’re really not. Most of them have no inherent goodness or badness. They all have the potential to be informative or celebratory or good exercise or just plain fun. They all also have the potential to be avenues for escape.

And I’m prone to escapism. Some combination of my personality, my experiences, and the myriad ways that modern culture offers us to escape our reality have, for me, led to 37 years worth of finding creative ways to escape. To not be present to what’s really going on in my life. To not be attentive. To not, in all honesty, be fully alive in many moments.

Sadness and grief can be paralyzing. Depression is no joke. I say all of this from experience. Intentionally diving into the waters of sadness isn’t always the right move, either–sometimes escape is a survival technique. Everything in its season, and everything in moderation. But I find that my default setting is one in which I’m not really letting myself grieve the big or small rips in the fabric of life that I encounter. The ways I’m broken. The ways the world is broken. The pain of people I love. The pain of people I’ll never meet. And I need regular doses of art, conversation, experiences that will prod me to do that grieving.

That’s where, for me, sad songs come in. A well-written, well-performed sad song has the capability to take me right to the core (or at least to dig into the mantle) of feelings I’ve been avoiding. When I turn on Patty Griffin’s “Rain,” or the soundtrack of the musical “The Last Five Years,” I access the pain and grief of relationships not going like we thought they would, hoped they would, needed them to. When I listen to Jason Isbell’s “Elephant,” I’m seared by the sadness of death and dying and of loving someone deeply. I remember in college listening to David Crowder’s “All I Can Say” on repeat, and feeling the desperation of spiritual longing, of the “dark night of the soul.”

Sometimes the sad song might end on a hopeful note. Many of the best don’t. The hope is found in the alchemy of turning grief into beauty, and in the “Oh, you too?” recognition that breaks us out of our isolation. There is something incredibly moving to me about a piece of art that tells the truth about the hard parts of life and somehow begins to redeem it in the beauty of the telling. The craft of the lyrics, the choices of instrumentation and rhythms and chord progressions, the sigh of a steel guitar line or the weeping of a mandolin, the voice soaked in the waters of experience–the right combination of these things cracks me open and brings me to my knees.

My faith and my experience tell me that the world is (and that I am) flawed and broken, and also that even good things must eventually burn down to let something better rise from the ashes. Being intentional about accessing sadness is, for me, a way of sifting through those ashes and finding the building blocks of new creation. As an (often frustrated) songwriter, I find that listening to a song that gets me in touch with my sadness is one of the best avenues for finding the head- and heart-space in which I do my best creative work. It’s a way of touching the live rail that energizes creativity. It hurts, but the hurt motivates and animates.

So here’s to the sad song. Turn it up and cry it out, my friends.

Mike Loretto (@mikeloretto on Twitter/IG) is a songwriter, worship leader, husband to Sarah, and feeder of dogs Bristow and Jed Bartlet. He and Sarah write and perform music under the name Truesdell and are hoping to release an album this year. (Find Truesdell on Facebook or @truesdellmusic on Twitter). Mike is passionate about the intersection of art & spirituality, contemplative prayer, good food & drink, Kansas Jayhawks basketball, and Kansas City Royals baseball. He almost never blogs at mikeloretto.tumblr.com. Email: mikeloretto at gmail dot com

Muck

I like cute-creative Halloween. Not ghosty-ghouly-gorey Halloween.

Like the year Tween dressed as a skeleton on Hawaiian vacation: skeleton costume plus grass skirt with Mardi Gras beads and puka shells topped with a straw hat. Cute, creative, and made us all laugh.

As I walk the dog through decked out neighborhoods, I continually avert my eyes to the dog, to my own plodding feet, to avoid the grossing-me-out décor. Pumpkins and hay bales, all good. Severed bloody limbs hanging from trees? No way.

I do the same with social media and news reports, which these days seem about the same. But even as I ignore insensitive comments, I can’t help arguing with them in my head. Did they read or hear the same info I did? Then how in the world did we come to such different conclusions?

How in the world, indeed. How in the world…

The other day I heard someone comment that we’ve had a bad week, oh, for about a year now.

Yes. That feels spot on.

As that comment ricocheted around my brain, I recognized that I feel increasingly, steadily, angry. Naturally an optimist, I seem to have lost myself, as I can’t find much about which to be optimistic.

I hate how noisy the world has become, with everyone shouting at one another. Not only disagreeing—never mind agreeing to disagree—but hating on one another.

Here’s what I hate:

I hate that our country’s issues have piled up like bricks in a wall, with friends and family members on either side hurling invective and brandishing pitch forks.

I hate that those with power refuse to even listen to those without power, as if they don’t have a right to an opinion, or their own perspective based on their own experience. Nope, they’re just wrong.

I hate the struggle to defend myself as a woman working in a man’s world. And the apparent inability of men to see that that is my experience. (And if I feel this way, as a white, middle class working woman, I truly cannot even begin to imagine what it’s like to be someone without as much privilege.)

I hate that life can be so hard, that people I love hurt so much for so many reasons and there is little I can do about it.

In so many ways, I feel stuck. Like one of our favorite children’s books, I’m one duck stuck in the muck and I want to cry, “Help, help, who can help?”

But I don’t cry, because I’m afraid. I’m afraid of sounding ridiculously needy. I’m afraid of being that vulnerable. I’m afraid of being accused of losing the faith, of being faithless. I’m afraid I won’t hear the right response, “We can, we can!” I’m afraid we’re all stuck in this muck.

I had a conversation yesterday about the title of my blog, “Miracles in the Mundane,” that there truly are bright, sparkly miracles in everyday life if we open our eyes to see them.

I still believe that. I do.

It’s just harder to find miracles in the muck. So, tired as I feel already, I must keep digging.

Maybe we should all try. Put down our burdens and instead start digging and looking for miracles. Because, honestly, that would be the best help.

Taco Tuesday

“Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now…”
–from Hamilton

I didn’t sleep well last night. Having put myself to bed at a reasonable hour, I spun in fitful sheet-tangles trying to find that just-right bodily pose that would release my mind to dreamland. But dreamland itself proved fitful, with vividly distressing dreams from which I woke-wide around 4 am. I finally fell back asleep, hard, just in time to greet this groggy day.

Somewhere in the night, as the stress bogeys pressed in hot and heavy, my brain produced this lovely, lilting line from Hamilton as a prayerful antidote. It played on a loop and stays with me today.

How lucky indeed.

I have not been a political person. In part because I don’t like conflict, but also because I generally don’t feel confident to speak on political issues. My heart directs me toward encouragement rather than confrontation.

I didn’t sleep in part because I haven’t been writing. I haven’t been writing because I don’t know what to say in light of all the literal and figurative whirlwinds decimating our beautiful world.

The kettle cannot contain the steam, so here blows:

Gun control laws need immediate and serious revision. Private citizens of sound mind who have passed a background check may have their guns, but private citizens don’t need silencers and automatic weapons.

Puerto Ricans are Americans struggling for survival and need all the help the U.S. can provide. If you would expect your country to help you in time of disaster, then you should demand as much for them.

Kneeling is a peaceful and prayerful pose. Kaepernick et al. aren’t protesting the flag but police violence against people of color. They aren’t disrespecting the military or our country but using their First Amendment freedom and position of power to shine a spotlight on injustice. Like Jesus, who used His power to get down in the dirt with those who suffered injustice.

Global Warming is not fake news but a scientifically proven reality, and the EPA and our National Parks need protection.

Giving tax cuts to the rich and stripping health care from the poor makes no sense.

We need bridges more than walls, and taco trucks on every corner would be down-right delicious.

October 4 is National Taco Day, and I strongly recommend you try my new fav taco recipe.

The original recipe comes from a partnership between the Sarno brothers at Wicked Healthy and Purple Carrot, a plant-powered meal prep company. I first heard about Chef Chad Sarno through UC Davis Department of Integrative Medicine (follow their blog for great information about nutrition and plant-based eating). And friends have shared rave reviews of Purple Carrot. Though I don’t need a meal prep service at this point, I am grateful that they are willing to share their recipes.

For the original recipe they made tostadas with mango salsa. I dropped the salsa and added jalapeno; and tostadas or soft or crispy tacos, any way you serve it, this recipe = delish!

Lentil Fajita Tacos
Serves 4

1 c red lentils
2 1/2 c water
8 corn tortillas or taco shells
1 large yellow or red onion, thinly sliced
8-10 garlic cloves, minced
2 bell peppers, thinly sliced
1 jalapeno, seeded and diced
1 lime, juiced
2 avocados, diced
fresh chopped cilantro
green cabbage or iceberg lettuce, chopped 

Combine lentils and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to low until water has been absorbed, about 14-17 minutes. The lentils should become soft and porridge-like. If necessary, use a potato masher or fork to mash them, and stir in the lime juice.

If you’re making tostadas, preheat the oven to 400 and toast tortillas for 10-12 minutes.

In a large skillet, saute onions for 3 minutes. Add garlic, bell peppers, and jalapeno and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for another 5-10 minutes until veggies are soft and carmelized.

To serve, add lentils to tortillas or taco shells and top with fajita veggies, cabbage/lettuce, avocado, and cilantro.

If you have lentils left over, reheat with a drizzle of oil and more lime juice.

We are indeed lucky to be alive and, look around, we are alive right now. Let’s eat more tacos, kiss one another’s boo boos, love and protect each other and our world, and do something each day to make life on earth a better place for everyone.

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August-September 2017 Reading

“I knew it was true that I had stalled again on my writing. For once, I was too caught up with actually living my life to stop and turn it into words. People like Lawrie–who never wrote a single line of prose, as far as I knew–seemed to want those who did to walk around with a pad and pencil hanging round their neck, jotting down the whole thing, turning it into a book for their own pleasure” (Odelle Bastien from The Muse, by Jessie Burton, pp. 364-365).

I haven’t been on the blog much. As Odelle observes, I have stalled, too busy living to turn my life into words. I have been loving and serving my family; whitewater rafting; hosting a dessert and drive-in party for the neighborhood; working my tail off at two completely different jobs; meeting one of my favorite actresses and an influential world-changer in one week’s time; walking the dog and practicing yoga; meeting friends for yoga or coffee; with adequate sleep thrown in for healthy measure.

I haven’t even been reading as much as usual. Occasionally when I realize I’m not writing, I suspect that the words bottling up in my mind and soul preclude the input of additional words. I have started-and-stopped on several posts, not sure how to articulate my perspective on what I see in the world around me. Some thoughts, some posts, take more time to marinate before they’re ready for consumption. Some may never be ready.

But I have read a few books. Constantly adding to my reading queue, I laugh at how books come to me sharing things in common. This time, I had three books about women not working for various reasons and three about unusually gifted young girls. Several books that were fine for the time, and two five-star books that will rank among my favorites for this year, and likely beyond.

The Good Girl's Guide to Getting Lost: A Memoir of Three Continents, Two Friends, and One Unexpected AdventureThe Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost: A Memoir of Three Continents, Two Friends, and One Unexpected Adventure by Rachel Friedman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

When music school doesn’t pan out as anticipated, when the English degree seems to lead nowhere specific, Rachel takes off: first for a summer in Ireland before finishing college, and then for the world post-graduation.

I finished the book, but sometimes felt a little bored by it. She meant it to be funnier and deeper than it was. Without the humor or timeless epiphanies, it sometimes read like a young woman’s travel journal with so-so interest. I’d rather go on my own travels than read about hers, especially in some places I’d never plan to visit.

Still, there were some highlights. Like the interesting reality that the American system works against travel culture among young people; with our high cost of education and health care, kids need to get solid, paying jobs ASAP.

Or the realization we all need, better achieved early on: “I imagine the people whose lives are most intertwined with mine, and I realize life has gone on without me. The planet has not imploded because I, the girl who has always done what is expected of her, decided not to, just this once” (16).

Or this, one of the perks of travel: “Maybe this is what travel gives you–or gives you back, in most cases–that childlike sense of wonder, and with it a kid-style openness where you want to finger-paint with anyone and everyone who shows up. Maybe it’s because people are in such an open state, on the road ready to absorb all the experiences and strangers that come their way, like we did when we were little” (157).

Not WorkingNot Working by Lisa Owens
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Bridget Jones, minus the razor-sharp wit, minus the job (obviously), plus the ever-patient Mr Darcy of her life, plus a strongly (strangely) off-putting conflict with her mum.

Claire has quit her job to “find herself.” She wants to do something truly meaningful, but has no idea what that is nor any plan to figure it out. Her family is daft, her boyfriend is beyond gracious, she is unorganized and obnoxious most of the time.

I wanted to like this book. The titled vignettes, snapshots of Claire’s life, are sometimes pithy, sometimes nonsensical. I sometimes felt entirely bored at the whining and wine-ing all the while she ought to get on with something. Sometimes I identified a little too much, and that annoyed too, but mostly she kinda bugged me.

And then it ended. She had a drunken epiphany that made sense and didn’t solve the issue At All and yet it’s over?

I really wanted more from the Buddleia. BTW, if you’re American, Buddleia is called Butterfly Bush (Google it!), and it’s really quite lovely, although I’m certain it ate into our septic system.

Counting by 7sCounting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love love love this book! I laughed, cried, read passages aloud to my husband… A unique child who faces more tragedy in her few years on Earth than most experience in a long lifetime manages to unintentionally create a new family around her just by being herself. Willow is inspirational, and I might just plant a sunflower forest in my backyard because of her.

A Mango-Shaped SpaceA Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Mia is a synesthete, meaning she was born with the ability to ‘see’ colors associated with letters, numbers, names, and sounds. That Mass has taken a little-known condition and embodied it for young people in a relatable way–at a time of life when everyone feels different and no one wants to feel different–is helpful. The descriptions of Mia’s colors makes me jealous, TBH. But the story dragged for me. Not sure why, as overall it was mostly a good book.

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's SorryMy Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I LOVE THIS BOOK!

I recently reviewed all the titles I’ve read in the eight months of 2017, and was surprised that there weren’t more I felt over-the-top about. Here it is.

This book is a testament to the power of stories. Art imitating life and life drawing on the power of art. I have read Backman’s other books this year, and truly enjoyed them, but this one… This one is special.

“Elsa had been very afraid that night, and she had asked Granny what they would do if one day their world crumbled around them.
“And then Granny had squeezed her forefingers hard and replied, ‘Then we do what everyone does, we do everything we can.’ Elsa had crept up into her lap and asked: ‘But what can we do?’ And then Granny had kissed her hair and held her hard, hard, hard and whispered: ‘We pick up as many children as we can carry, and we run as fast as we can.'” (p132)

“Elsa remembers how Granny said that ‘the best stories are never completely realistic and never entirely made-up.’ That was what Granny meant when she called certain things ‘reality-challenged.’ To Granny, there was nothing that was entirely one thing or another. Stories were completely for real and at the same time not.” (p171)

“…Elsa decides that even if people she likes have been shits on earlier occasions, she has to learn to carry on liking them. You’d quickly run out of people if you had to disqualify all those who at some point have been shits. She thinks that this will have to be the moral of this story. Christmas stories are supposed to have morals.” (p315)

And happy endings. Christmas stories are supposed to have happy endings. And this one does.

Love Water MemoryLove Water Memory by Jennie Shortridge
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Well, if this isn’t an allegory in the necessity of mental healthcare… Very readable, I picked it up with some trepidation that it would be cliche. It wasn’t. It touched on real and raw emotions, on the nature of personhood and personality. On love and relationships, friendships and family and neighborliness.

Who would you become if you could start over with a mostly blank slate? Interesting to consider…

Good book, not great. Would have benefited from another editorial pass, but still, engaging and quick.

Humble. Yoga. Go!

Friends opened a yoga studio and invited me to try it.

I’d never tried yoga and, other than mandatory (despised, humiliating) PE classes all the way through college and some neon jazzercise in the late-80’s/early-90’s, group exercise—team or class—hasn’t been my thing.

To be honest, exercise hasn’t been my thing. I’m branching out in middle age! (Literally: tree pose, growing branches)

I would have chickened out, but I bumped into my friend. She looked at me, pointed dramatically, and declared: “YOU! It’s time!”

I went. I loved it.

Because my son took a year of yoga in high school, I had heard that final savasana (lying flat on your back as in sleep) is supposedly the hardest yoga pose. Seriously, what’s so hard about lying still?

Proud of myself for making it through an hour of yoga, I was surprised when my yogi-friend grabbed my foot, then lifted, wiggled and pulled on one leg and then the other. I realized: I didn’t even know how to properly lie still. My body had been holding in stress and my legs weren’t fully stretched out. Talk about humbling…

At the end of class, I gulped one big sob: I had found a form of exercise that could unite body, mind, and spirit. Through this practice, hard and humbling as it might be, I could physically practice the greatest commandment: to love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, strength, and mind.

Though my body ached, I had to go back. This time, I couldn’t keep still during final savasana as sobs shook my shoulders. Yoga tapped so deeply into my inner being that I felt like I should go home and journal. I knew I needed more yoga in my life.

One of my favorite things about this studio: humility is built into its name. Humble Yoga. As a total newbie, I have no choice but to enter in with humility. And when I wiggle or shake or fall flat on my rear, I laugh at myself. No judgment, always options to modify, and at least I’m trying! (One of our yogis said, “Oh, you just laugh all the time!” With humility I agreed, and laughter is good for the soul).

Another favorite thing about yoga: what I learn on the mat applies to life off the mat. Listen to these phrases I hear in most classes:

What is your intention?
Where is your foundation?
Ground down.
Inhale your intention. Exhale, commit a little deeper.
Engage your core.
Notice your body. Release any feelings of tension.
Grow tall through your crown.
Drop your shoulders.
Find your edge. Breathe through your edge.
Relax your face.
Shake it out.
Find your active pose.
Find something new in each familiar pose.
Gaze up.
Find a focal point.
Are you still breathing?
Option to modify.
Come back to your breath. Come back to your intention.
Give yourself a gentle squeeze.
This is your practice.

I’m sure you can imagine countless scenarios where those phrases would be helpful advice… In a tense work meeting, or conversation with a neighbor, spouse, or grumpy teenager. Any time life feels challenging. Any time you feel stumped or stifled. Any time you feel run down or discouraged. Any time you need a gentle nudge towards growth. How many times off the mat have I reminded myself to notice my body, to remember my intention, to relax my face and drop my shoulders, and just breathe?

Yoga reminds me to be present to this moment. This breath. This stretch. To breathe into the pain or pleasure of this moment without anticipating what will come next. Whatever’s next will surely come, and I will breathe into that moment as it comes, but this is Now. We can do hard things if we are present to what each moment requires and remember to keep breathing.

We do together what we would not do alone. I still walk or run most days in between yoga work outs, but yoga pushes me in ways I wouldn’t push myself. And in the studio I make new friends and connect in new ways with people I’ve known for years. In the studio we build community within our community, and it will strengthen the community beyond its doors.

Currently, my goal is to go 2-4 days a week; eventually that will become 3-5 days a week as I get stronger and ache less between. Still, even the aches remind me to breathe; that I have done and will do hard things; to be intentional.

I may not have a “yoga body,” but this body does yoga.
I am not strong. I am growing stronger.
I am stronger than I was. I will grow stronger still.

With practice.

[Yoga with me! gohumbleyoga.com]

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Phoenix

It can be hard to find beauty as you walk in the wasteland… And some days, seasons, in our lives feel just like that: devoid of beauty, wasted, bleak. But there is hope, friends, always hope. My friend Kristi reminds us to look to the phoenix. Grieve the losses, yes, but look for the new arising from the old.

re:create recess #18: Kristi Grover

Phoenix: a beautiful mythological bird resembling an eagle. It burns to death at the end of its life cycle…and from the ashes another phoenix arises.

As a young child I was absolutely fascinated by the phoenix myth I encountered through story. As an adult I continue to be intrigued by the imagery. I can look back over my life and clearly see many parallels when I consider various eras, relationships, and energies as they emerged, blossomed, and later flamed out—some slowly and quietly and others in a sudden whoosh of flame, leaving behind only ashes.

Yet, each time, those ashes held the promise of re-creation. Ashes are, after all, soil for new growth. They may appear to be a dull, gritty waste but they are in fact rich with nutrients and conducive to vibrant new life. Re-creation.

In the story I read as a child the protagonist is a young boy who has experienced a series of losses. He is lonely, suddenly living in an unfamiliar place, and not clear about what to do next. He strikes out on a solitary, aimless ramble in the woods and comes across a tiny phoenix emerging from what looks like a campfire. They become friends and share wondrous adventures until one day when the phoenix disappears.

The boy’s search for his trusted companion leads him eventually to the same place they first met. He witnesses the flames engulfing his dear friend, and grieves as he accepts that their time together has ended. Eventually he gathers himself to leave until a small sound causes him to look back and he sees a tiny new phoenix emerging from the ashes. Suddenly there is hope and the promise of new adventures.

In my life I have seen this pattern repeat in various ways. A good friend moves away or some other change causes the end of a once close relationship. A dearly loved family member dies. A move severs connection on many levels. A health challenge suddenly arises which effectively closes off meaningful work.

Even good, happily anticipated changes hold some significant loss. I was overjoyed as I anticipated being married to my beloved one, yet also privately needed to grieve significant losses as my life changed quite dramatically. As my children grew into maturity and moved off into lives with their own families, friends, and work, I could rejoice in the new beauty I saw as they grew into the promise of early years, yet there was also bittersweet acknowledgement that a precious window of time closed—family life on this particular level. What helped me in these times, and others like them, was knowing that a new era of life would open up eventually with its own extraordinary beauty.

Each time I needed to accept the change, grieve what was lost, and honor memories. And then I needed to wait patiently until it was time for a new beginning. As a woman of faith, I needed to trust that God was working things out in ways beyond my understanding and that He would bring into my life new relationships, work, or insights which would open the way to new adventures in my life journey with Him.

It is hard to wait, harder still to wait in hope with an open, trusting heart. I have often thought at such times of the answer I would give to young children in my care when, school day over, they waited while all the other children were picked up by a parent or led off to another activity. “When is my mom coming?” they would ask, sometimes with tears. And my answer would always be, “She’ll be here at just the right time.” For young children, waiting is very hard, even agonizing.

Even a two-minute delay feels like forever when everyone else has someone to be with or something wonderful to do. But Mom or Dad or Nanny or Grandparent always did show up eventually and they’d embark on new adventures together, grief eclipsed by the promise of excitement ahead.

In my “wisdom years” now, I’ve lived with chronic pain, cancer, tough challenges to my marriage, deep concerns for my children’s safety as they headed off time and again into dangerous places to do the work they believed God had called them to do, the end of relationships with various family members and friends due to death, moves, changes in work, and many other challenges.

Each loss has needed a time of grieving: remembering the good and trying to learn from the difficult. And always, always, at just the right time—not necessarily the time I would choose but the right time—new opportunities, new challenges, new relationships have emerged. I am given the opportunity to be “re-created” once more. The ashes of loss are real but the promise of new adventures ahead is also real.

I will choose to both honor the beauty of what is gone and welcome the beauty of what lies ahead.

some things that are true about me

My work in life is as a teacher and storyteller.  I take joy in many things – time spent with children and my family and friends, working in various ways for justice, hiking along high mountain ridge lines and walking in the woods and sitting quietly to stare at the ocean, hearing people share their life stories and affirming them, writing and reading, rainy afternoons by the fire with my small grey cat, listening to music and singing and dancing, intelligent conversation and laughter, making a home.  These and other things are true about me but the truest thing is that I am a child of God.