Thankful Thursday – Spring Break Through

A friend emailed: “Are you ok? Your ‘miracles’ are sounding like you need a lot of hugs.”

Hmmm… Good feedback, since I hadn’t intended to sound like a downer. I am okay, generally. This has been a month of long work hours unbalanced by enough fun or activity as I’ve recuperated this ankle sprain. Every day has presented new adventures in parenting, especially as Teen moves through his last few weeks of high school. “Unbalanced” might be just the right word–my head, heart, and body have been out of sync, a mishmash of misplaced forms, overlooked details, new questions, full emotions, and injury.

But “unbalanced” is temporary. My ankle feels significantly better after last week’s visit to the chiropractor. I’m not running yet, but last night I did yoga without pain–hooray! Work projects are winding down and the school year is winding down. Summer is within sight.

Spring has arrived, and my roses have exploded.

I’m not much of a gardener but I do enjoy time spent dead-heading roses, inhaling the sweet fragrance of these blooms. Our front entrance has never smelled more delightful, and I get such a kick out of my white roses flaunting their rebellious pink streaks.

Since January I’ve been carting around my gratitude journal, attempting to record at least three unique points of gratitude each day in addition to Bible verses, quotes, etc. Truthfully, I’m not very good at it–I’ve skipped too many days–but I know gratitude is a helpful discipline so I keep plugging along.

I tucked here and there between the pages little cards, some with quotes to encounter and reflect on throughout the year, others with a word/phrase for the month. They cause me to pause, to say thanks, to ponder the holy ground on which I stand.

The word for May is “Break…” to which I added, “Through,” and–like “unbalanced”–that, too, feels right: at the end of the school year, May has the tendency to knock me off my feet; this year, I am choosing to break through.

So what am I grateful for today? 

A friend who asks if I’m really okay.
Healing.
Movement.
Roses.
Another friend who visited from out-of-town and slotted time for me on her full itinerary.
Coffee in the morning, tea before bed.
A neighbor who gave away her zucchini plant “volunteers”–and three new plants for our veggie garden.
New library books.
Easy something-out-of-nothing still-healthy meals from the pantry (I really do need to go grocery shopping…)
Significant life-processing conversations with Teen.
Tween’s new brace face, and the miracles of orthodontia.
Squirrels who make me laugh as they zoom along tree branches, and the quail who visit our bird feeder.

How about you? What are you grateful for, and how are you breaking through?

And by the way, I’ll take those hugs anytime!

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Thankful Thursday – My Awesome Doghouse

No matter what you do, how hard you work, how much you invest, how great your love or commitment, you will disappoint people. The junior high and high school popular kids. Certain teachers or college professors. Friends and neighbors. Bosses and authority figures of all stripes and spots. Family members, community members, and church members. Strangers on Facebook. Whoever they may be, critics can crawl through walls like ants.

I said: “I feel like I’m in the doghouse.”
He said: “So make it one awesome doghouse.”

Great advice! I can only do my best and I can’t change the critics. Theirs is not the love I need most (read that with an Obi Wan Kenobi voice: “This is not the droid you’re looking for…” This is NOT the love I’m looking for).

I’m setting myself free to make my doghouse awesome!doghouse

I recently read Shauna Niequist’s new book, Present Over Perfect, in which she wrote:

“This is what I know for sure: along the way you will disappoint someone. You will not meet someone’s needs or expectations. You will not be able to fulfill their request. You will leave something undone or poorly done. Possibly, this person will be angry with you, or sad.

“What you need along the way: a sense of God’s deep, unconditional love, and a strong sense of your own purpose. Without those two, you’ll need from people what is only God’s to give, and you’ll give up on your larger purpose in order to fulfill smaller purposes or other people’s purposes.”

So what am I up to?
* Spending less time on social media and TV, and more time in books. I wandered the library shelves today and found a few to add to my stack.
* Reaching out to friends
* Counting my blessings in my gratitude journal
* Getting outside to walk daily with my sweet Guy or friends, always with dogs
* Drowning out the noise with silence
* Soaking in God’s love through the Bible, prayer, and greater attention to His presence
* Cooking simple, healthy food and drinking lots of water and herbal tea
* Enjoying my work and my play
* Saying yes and taking risks, and learning to say no
* I’ve hit refresh on my wind down ritual and my sleep has improved.

Last night after homework Tween and I played best-out-of-five games of Uno. Despite my strong start, he won. Along the way we laughed and talked. We might do it again tonight, or soon. We’re making what seems frivolous, important. Because it is.

I’m shaking off the dirt and falling in love all over again with my doghouse. Because it’s mine, I’m decorating it with people, activities, and things that fill me up with joy. And I’m grateful!

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Better Together

I’ve been thinking about community…

Recently a friend posted about setting “Better Together” goals with her husband. It got me thinking (thanks, Cara!). I’m not much of a goal setter, too generally scatter-brained. But Guy’s more organized along those lines. What if we set goals together and held each other accountable?

During my Inauguration Day media fast, another friend called and said, “Our church is divided because our country is divided. We need to come together to pray for our country.” Her words rang true in my soul. As we chatted, we realized that we stand on opposite sides of the political divide. And we stand together in prayer.

Last night I scrolled through Facebook and saw pictures of friends all across the country peacefully marching in solidarity with one another. The heaviness in my chest lifted some, replaced by hope. I’m not alone.

I didn’t march. Instead we attended our friends’ son’s bar mitzvah. Despite having taken a few years of Hebrew in seminary, I quickly gave up on the transliteration and instead read and prayed along in English. It was a beautiful service, fascinating and moving and so different and like what we do at church on Sundays.bar-mitzvah-1

Two things especially struck me throughout the day. First, we all ought to speak heartfelt words of blessing, over our children and to one another. How different might our families, our communities, our world be if we noticed and spoke into the best parts, the uniqueness, of the people in our lives? And secondly, I am so grateful for my friends!

As we celebrated the rite of passage that welcomed this boy into Jewish manhood, we talked. We laughed. We danced and ate and drank. But because we also do life together, we asked hard questions. We whispered prayer and rubbed salve on the aches we know our friends carry. We rejoiced together all the more because we have also suffered together.bar-mitzvah-2

Before it started raining this afternoon, Guy and I took the dogs for a quick walk. He remarked, “I really like our neighborhood!” I agree. I like our street, our section of town, this geographic community we call home. And I like our neighbors and friends, the community that fills our hearts. I think we’re better for engaging in life in this place, at this time. I hope others would say the same about us.

So tonight, despite the dumping rain, despite my introverted self running on full-weekend extrovert overload, I will drag myself out of my cozy cocoon to gather with other friends, our church Community Group. We will talk and laugh and discuss and pray. Because I need them in my life. We’re better together.

Come & See
Week 3 – 1 Corinthians 12:12-27

Connect
Which part of your body do you think is most important? Which would be hardest to live without?

Study
Read aloud 1 Corinthians 12:12-27.
Notice who has responsibility for assembling the body parts (vv. 13, 18, 24, 27). How does that knowledge reorient our perspective?
Rephrase the statements in vv. 15-16 as someone might actually say them. How would you respond?
Sadly, how do we communicate “I don’t need you!” to certain members of the body? How can we change our attitudes and actions?
How would you explain to someone who hadn’t read this passage why we need each other?

Live
What are some of the Church’s favorite body parts? How do we demonstrate that?
How would you describe your place in the body? Have you ever wanted to be a different body part? What and why?
There should be no division in the body, but we can all point to examples. How should we address division when we see it?
How do we practically suffer and rejoice with one another?
How can we strengthen our connection to the body?
What does this passage communicate about what it means to be Jesus’ disciple?
What is Jesus saying to you through this study, and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray for stronger connections with other members of the body.

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2016 Create Challenge & (Re)Discovering My POV

Just about a year ago, my brother-in-law and I discussed creativity as we washed Christmas china. We hatched a plan to invite people to post on my blog about creativity. As a result, this year 39 people have guest-posted, one friend 2x, and I have been moved, inspired, blessed.

Throughout this year, I have heard two phrases repeatedly: “I didn’t /don’t think of myself as creative…” and “Thank you! Committing to guest post helped me in such-and-such a way…”

To which I say two things. First: STOP it, friends! As human beings, we are created to create, and thus we are all creative. Own it, already, figure it out, create!

Secondly… You’re welcome! I am so grateful that the opportunity to post on this little blog has proven significant in some way.

Your posts have been significant in my life. Of that I am certain.

Each week, February through November, I had the opportunity to reflect on a friend near or far. Few of those who have guest-posted reside in our immediate community. Some I have known since childhood. Some I haven’t seen since high school graduation—mine, perhaps theirs. Some I have only rubbed elbows with, “elbows” perhaps meaning “social media accounts.” The age range has been considerable, a 40+ year gap. The creativity also has been vast, from “traditional” arts—writing, painting, singing, composing—to those necessary for daily life—parenting, friendship, encouragement, forgiveness. As I have prepared to post, I have belly-laughed and I have wept tears of grief and gratitude. Your posts have grounded me, uplifted me, and leveled me.

I feel honored to have created this platform, this community, for people to share their stories. I feel honored to have such a wide web of connections among honest, vulnerable, creative friends.

I have learned a few things:
I love to encourage—oh, how I have looked forward to my weekly guest post intros.
I love to share stories—to encourage others through posting stories that resonate with me and with you.
Creativity begets creativity—I created a platform, you created posts, which further inspired you, and me, and others…

On the day I posted 2016’s last guest post, I also indulged another creative project: I attached prints of recent photos I’ve taken to cards. For sale. Just a little thing for a little moms’ Christmas boutique. Not a money-maker, just enough to pay for supplies really.16photocards

Still, it’s something I haven’t done for a while. I picked up the prints and, as I laid them out, I remarked out loud: “Huh. I have a style…?!” Of course I knew what drew my eye, what had me reaching for my camera, but here it was, the recent best of, and it surprised me.

My pictures tend to be flowers, close up. They are quiet moments, some with riotous color. Most so close you don’t see the whole flower/bouquet. I don’t do landscapes, wide-scapes, the Big Picture. I stop, bend down, notice the details, the small, too-often overlooked beauty.

You wouldn’t know it to look at them, but each image tells me a story: of the rose bushes Guy gave me one Valentine’s Day; of the bulbs we planted in our yard; of the end-of-summer Farmer’s Market we visited; of Nephew’s 18th birthday celebration in Guy’s hometown; of a friend’s wedding.

Much like those who have posted on my blog, I will say: “I don’t think of myself as observant…” I guess it depends on what draws one’s attention. My guys see things as we hike—lizards, snakes, berries in trees. They are more naturally observant than I am. They have better distance eyesight.

I see flowers here, there, and everywhere. They stop me, make me notice them, help me see what makes each special.

During Thanksgiving week Tween and I walked the dogs through my childhood neighborhood. An African daisy caught my eye, orange-yellow-black, petals as intricate as butterfly wings. We stooped to look closely, to barely touch so as not to disturb. Neither of us had phone or camera, so we couldn’t snap for later. The next day I took my phone running with me. The flower was shut tight, the sun not in the right position for it to open. It reminded me to appreciate beauty while it may be found.

Which is really and truly The Whole Point of this blog: Miracles in the Mudane! My life may be small, but it contains glorious, beautiful details pointing to the Divine. Your life may be small, but you contain stories that speak to so much more.

One of my favorite things is to help people share their stories, and this year the blog, the Create Challenge, has done just that. Because most of us live small lives, but all of us have something important to share. And I am so grateful!

Pride & Joy

Parents often speak of their children as their Pride and Joy.

My mom has often said that she can’t be proud of her children. Not that she doesn’t have reason to feel pride, but that she won’t take credit for our accomplishments.

I hope it’s not disrespectful, on Mother’s Day of all days, to say: I get that, and I don’t.

7-2-11 006I love you, Mom, and I believe you deserve at least some credit for anything I’ve achieved. Throughout my life you have poured into me love and confidence, strength and energy, beauty and creativity, and countless stories of heroes near and far overcoming odds to live meaningful lives. You have been my model of faith, integrity, and perseverance. You held my hand when I needed courage and patted my back when I needed an encouraging nudge forward. You listened–oh, how you have listened–to my never-ending drama and you spoke words of wisdom in response. Who could count the hours you have spent in prayer for me, from before my life began until this very day?

Yes, I have made my own decisions, for good and ill; I have formed my own opinions which have influenced those choices; but I did neither in a vacuum. Your loving presence has helped to shape the woman I have become, and I am grateful.

Besides, synonyms for Pride include: pleasure, joy, delight, satisfaction. I would never ask you to bear the burden of my mistakes, but I do hope that as you look at me you feel joy or delight, at least from time to time. I want you to feel satisfied in a job well done (so much more than well done).

I look at my own sons through eyes filled with pride, my heart overflowing with pleasure, joy, delight, and satisfaction. They amaze me, these unique individuals, so much their own people from Day 1. The First, who has always slept so deeply because he filled every waking moment with his energetic joy at discovering life; and the Second, who has never slept well in part because his old soul moves him at a more peaceful pace. Like their mama, they eat books; like their dad, they drink nature. They reflect their parents and yet we still have so much to learn from them.

Other times I look at my sons and–I’m sure you understand–my heart aches. I feel crushed when others don’t see them the way I do, when others want to squash their out-of-the-box gifts into neatly-constructed, life-sucking boxes. My kids will never easily fit, just as I don’t. Just as you don’t, Mom. Thanks for teaching me that it’s more than okay to be myself, no matter what others think. More than just a lesson on how to be in this world, I consistently apply it to parenting.

And my heart aches for the moments lost, the opportunities I didn’t grab, the times my impatience got the better of me and I snapped instead of listened. I haven’t done this parenting thing perfectly, but I knew better than to expect that I would. I pray that someday my kids will recognize that I have been a Good Enough Mother, that I did a Good Enough job at this parenting thing, that they have had a Good Enough childhood, and that all the truly good stuff is God’s grace. You do your best, and let God do the rest. You taught me that, too.hands

To my mother-in-law: Of course this all applies directly to you as well, as you have done for your son everything my mom has done for me. Thank You for raising my Guy, this incredible man with whom I get to share life. More than 20 years into marriage and, to this day, he’s still better at the traditional homemaker activities than I am. You nurtured his creativity in the kitchen, and some of our favorite “dates” have been cooking together. You taught him to mend and iron and sew and clean and–hooray!–I have fewer chores. You prayed for him (and for me), nurtured his faith, and showed him the joy of servant leadership, and oh how he serves: his family, his friends, his faith community, and his community. Through your son you have given me a tremendous gift. I can never thank you enough.tent 2And to my Mama Friends: How could we do this messy thing called mothering without each other for support, encouragement, shared laughter, tears, prayers, and adventures? I am so glad my kids know they can call on you when they can’t stand me (c’mon, it happens). God has filled this village with strong, beautiful, graceful women, each with her own challenges and strengths, and I am so grateful we’re trekking this stretch of life’s journey together. Together we are raising quite a troop of energetic, creative, strong young people who are going to change the world in ways we can’t yet imagine. Thanks for being you.

How Do We Pray?

walkAs we walked the trail, my friends talked about dealing with stress: exercise, meditation, therapy, hypnosis…

I said, “Or you could pray.”

They expected that from me, but I didn’t expect their response: “Well, you know how to do that. We don’t know how to pray. Maybe you need to pray for us every morning.”

On the spot, I grabbed them in a hug-headlock and started praying. It’s not that complicated, but we seem to make it more complicated than it needs to be. I talked to God our Father, asking Him to wrap them up in His loving arms and soothe away their stresses as they learn to rely on Him. Walk over, we grabbed a cup of coffee and went our ways.

That conversation certainly motivated me to pray for my gals, but it also broke my heart a little. These friends come to church and hear people pray regularly. Still, they feel ill-equipped to pray themselves.

I’ve been church-going and praying all my life and I still don’t like to pray out loud. I love me a good Bible study but don’t relish out-loud group prayer. Which meant, I thought, I didn’t know how to pray.

I remember the moment, about a decade ago, when I had an epiphany: I pray all the time! I pray as I read God’s Word. I journal my prayers. When I’m alone in the car, I keep the radio off so God and I can chat on the go. I pray as I walk. When someone comes to mind, I pray for them (and then get in contact to see how they’re doing – there is often a reason I’m thinking of them). I pray with and for my kids. I listen to music that leads me to pray. And on and on.

Why did I think I couldn’t pray? Because my introverted tendencies make it uncomfortable for me to pray in groups. It can feel too intimate. I don’t know what to say. I feel a responsibility to those I’m praying with to “get it right” even as I stumble over words. None of which provides an adequate excuse for not praying in groups. I still have to do it. Praying individually and in groups grows me as a follower of Jesus.

I’ve already offered a number of ways to pray individually. In addition, my friend Nancy has written and artfully illustrated a booklet of prayer ideas that you can download for free as you learn to Pray More. There are boatloads of books on prayer, but my new favorite is Fervent by Priscilla Shirer (written for women but don’t let that stop you, guys; the principles apply to everyone).

Some tips for praying together:
* Listen to what others pray for and agree with their prayers instead of composing your next prayer.
* Pray short prayers, using normal language.
* Silence is okay!
* Let the Spirit lead the direction of your prayers, each prayer building upon the prayers of others.
* Remember that God is your audience, not just others in the group.
* Use Scripture as God brings it to mind.

The good news? My friends are learning to pray. Like anything worthwhile, it takes practice. But they are reading daily devotional books and leaning on God throughout their (still stressful) days. As they pray, I suspect they are falling deeper in love with Jesus. Which, by the way, has been my regular prayer for them since that day on the trail.

Project Parenting

C at sea

This morning I had a long-overdue cuppa tea with a friend. Of course we talked about our kids. My Teen is a few years ahead of hers, and so conversations in our home run a different course than she has to deal with quite yet – driving, drinking, dating, college, life goals and plans… My friend has a special gift for making me feel like a stellar mom, even though I suspect all moms (all parents) just do their best in each moment, none of us truly knowing exactly what to do or how to do it. And each kid is entirely different, complicating this whole Parenting thing.

The closer Teen gets to high school graduation, the more I am convinced that there is no One Path Fits All. I am also increasingly convinced that culturally we have done our kids a disservice, robbing them of the freedom and fun of childhood far too early. My kid isn’t me, and the world he occupies isn’t the one in which I grew up. I wish I had realized that years ago and encouraged him to take the most fun-for-him classes that would also get him through middle school and high school, competition-based “shoulds” be damned. I have another kid who might yet benefit from this enlightened perspective, but chances are high that his path will be so entirely different that lessons learned with Teen won’t fit. Sigh.

A few hours later I read a magazine article about people who engage in long-term projects: hiking the Appalachian Trail, for example, or completing a cross-stitched quilt that consumed “free time” on and off for close to 50 years. The quilter said, “In art, when you’re creating, you have to be open to the possibilities” (Sister Judith Ann Shea, quoted by Amy Shearn in Real Simple, Feb 2016). Shearn goes on to say:

Being, and staying, open to the possibilities. That, right there, is exactly the near mystical appeal of the long haul… [The similar attitudes of those who undertake long-term projects] remind me to enjoy the slowness of a worthy, complex endeavor, to surround myself with positive people, and to remember to laugh, even through the moments that aren’t fun, even when you look in front of you and see hundreds more miles to walk…

Which sounds a whole lot like parenting, one heckuva worthy long-term endeavor! You create a family (whatever that looks like, but at least involves parent and child), and then you stay open to possibilities. You commit your life to help another human being create their life. The complexity of parenting takes every ounce of parental creativity; once you think you’ve got anything figured out, your kid changes or circumstances change and you find yourself back at, well, not Square 1, but at least a few steps off.

Which is why parents need to surround themselves with positive people, safe friends who Get It, who will listen and not try to fix you or your kids because none of you truly require fixing. We all need friends who love us unconditionally, friends who won’t judge. Friends who help us remember to laugh especially through the no-fun moments that threaten to last forever.

Not new news, of course, but today it feels like a fresh perspective:

Parenting = the most creative long-term project I will ever undertake.

Good thing I like creative projects. Thank God for the gift of this family, and thank God for friends to walk alongside as together we enjoy the slowness of this hike of a lifetime.