Thankful Thursday – Celebrate

Oh, friends, what a week!

Thursday to Thursday, I’m not sure there is any adequate way to sum it up, but let’s try this: joy, and grief, and joy… In all, celebrate.

One week ago we were in the final hours of the school year, during which both kids managed to drag out the drama and just about drive their mama over the edge. All is well, thank God, but all became well in those final hours. Sheesh!

Celebration commenced. Baccalaureate services and parties led to graduation and graduation parties. Teen graduated–hooray and hallelujah, amen! WOO HOO!

Honestly, I cried on and off (with greater and lesser degrees of humiliation) Wednesday-Thursday. Maybe I was cried out by Friday, but I made it through graduation tear-free. Perhaps it was the ear-to-ear smile Teen wore beginning to end. Or his willingness to at least quickly allow a hug or give me a quick peck on the cheek. I saw his happiness, his pride, his joy. It overflowed.

Imagine my surprise when, on the first day of “summer,” this late-sleeper woke up early and ready for yoga. When asked to choose my intention, the first word that popped to mind was “release,” which I immediately rejected: “release” held way too much possibility for full-on sob-fest! So I very carefully selected, “Celebrate.”

Yes. I can celebrate. Let’s celebrate: graduation, growth, summer, new adventures on the horizon, life lived and life ongoing.

This week we have joyfully celebrated graduations, and we have–with tremendous sadness and loss–celebrated lives well lived. Tucked between graduation parties, we attended a memorial service for an amazing man, a Navy Admiral, a gentleman who poured his life into his country, his family, his church, his business, and the Boy Scout troop in which each of his sons earned the rank of Eagle Scout.

The Troop in which my boys also participate: one has Eagled; another is on track. My boys attended the memorial service in Class A uniform, and each reported feeling impressed by the military salute (what American doesn’t bow low for a military gun salute?), the pastor’s heartfelt message, and their Scoutmaster Emeritus’s tribute to one of his best buddies, a friend of 30+ years. This man’s son and family have been our longtime dear friends. It was our honor to honor his life with them.

Monday we celebrated the first “school day” of summer, and the Bay Area whooped it up for the NBA win of our team, the Golden State Warriors. If you knew me in my SoCal life, this surprises you; but go on, be surprised at what raising two boys in the Bay Area can do for a mama’s respect for basketball!

Yesterday was the five-year anniversary of my beloved Mor-Mor’s (mother’s mother) heaven-home-going. I miss her like crazy; anyone who ever met her feels the same. When my dad was flying Pan Am jets and my dear mom was working, little Mor was it: on duty, making cookies, wooden-spooning naughty bottoms, keeping all of us–and friends–in line.

Yesterday, I read these verses in Proverbs (14:10, 13):
“Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can fully share its joy.
Laughter can conceal a heavy heart, but when the laughter ends, the grief remains.”

Grief and joy. They coexist in the heart. Sometimes we lean more fully to one or the other, while on occasion, they lean heavily together. Brene Brown wrote (coincidentally, of her own daughter’s recent high school graduation): “There’s a combination of joy and grief that can take your breath away. The sum of those two parts wells up inside you and holds your breath hostage until you let go of the notion that you can control the paradox and choose between joy and grief. Your breath returns only when you submit to the reality that you are caught in the grips of both delight and sorrow. Both are strong. Both are true.”

We celebrated Teen and his peers who have achieved a milestone in their yet-young lives. We celebrated the well-lived long lives of my friend’s dad and my grandma.

We celebrated the Warriors’ win. And last night we (belatedly) celebrated Tween’s 13th birthday and (early) celebrated Father’s Day with dinner and a movie [Wonder Woman, highly recommend!].

Life goes on. In each day, in daily life, we embrace emotional fullness: breath, movement, work, rest, feelings, enjoyment, mourning. Yesterday I felt like my sweet Mor-Mor moved through the day with me: through waking kids, work stuff, kid and family stuff, and family night out. I felt like she smiled down us, like she would have approved, if she could have been here to do so, that we ‘celebrated’ her departure by celebrating the lives we live in the moment.

Here’s to life, and to fully living in the moment all of this beautiful life that deserves celebrating!

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Exercise Caution

runIn March I took up running. A life-long walker/hiker who thought she hated running, I had a surprisingly good time pushing myself to more frequent runs which became faster and longer runs (still not far or fast, but my only competition is myself.)

It was fun until it wasn’t. Gulping in deep outdoor fresh-air allergy-heavy breaths, I developed breathing issues. For about six weeks I could hardly walk across a room or hold a conversation, which put running firmly out of reach.

As soon as I could I got back to it, starting right back at the beginning and yet doing it, persevering. And then I sprained my ankle. Honestly, I think I took a bad step hiking but running aggravated it. I’ve been limping for two weeks, but I hope to be running again soon.

The other night we firmly nudged Tween toward his bike for an hour-long pre-sunset solo bike ride. After a day of sitting on his patootie, he needed some exercise. He returned just before dark with silent tears streaming down his face: he had watched as one car–then another, and yet a third car–struck a baby deer (how that even happens, I can’t imagine…). He set down his bike to investigate, to see if he could possibly offer any assistance. He heard it scream, then whimper. He watched it twitch. He yelled in helpless frustration at passers-by who didn’t stop to help. Realizing he could neither put the deer out of its misery nor move it out of the way, he finally left it behind to head home.

His heart broke. He cried on and off until bedtime, and found sleep difficult.

Exercise can cause body aches and heart aches. I suppose we could all move our exercise indoors to the safety of air-conditioned gyms, a good idea sometimes but not a permanent solution. The outside world can cause all sorts of aches, but avoiding it is not the answer.

Risk is an essential part of life, the life we encounter when we close the front door behind us. Allergies, labored breathing, sprained ankles, and yes, even broken hearts, may be exercise risks, but they are risks worth taking. Strangers, violence, hardship, challenging thoughts that lead to paradigm shifts also await us beyond the safe shelter of home. And we learn and grow and become stronger people as we face each risk with courage.

I am glad Tween has a sensitive heart, and I am grateful he chose to share his sad story with us so we could cry and talk through it together. I can’t protect him forever, but for now I have the privilege to process with him life’s brokenness and beauty. I have the responsibility to teach him to exercise caution, but not too much.

Create

I wrote here about my intentions for, and here about my results with, “my word” for 2015: Put yourself in the way of beauty.

As 2015 came to a close, I reflected on the fact that my word had truly stuck with me and changed the way I lived. And so I asked myself, what’s next?

The word leaped to mind like a leopard that had been lying in wait:create

I have some creative projects I’d like to kick into high gear, projects for which I set goals I later let slip away. Beyond work, I’d like to be more creative in regular life, in play, relationships, and frame of mind. When I shared the word with others they responded with an impressed, “Oooh…!” It’s the right word at the right time for the right person: me.

Our creative instinct gives testimony to our having been created in the image of a creative God who has given us the privilege and responsibility of co-creating this world we inhabit. We mirror God to others through our creative acts, and I’m convinced we also tickle God pink with joy as we indulge the gifts He has given us.

I’m excited about living into “create” this year as it has so much potential. It is SO much bigger than we typically define it. We can create…

…art, atmosphere, beauty, community, compassion, design, experience, family, friendship, growth, health, home, hope, innovation, joy, laughter, legacy, love, marriage, meals, memories, music, peace, poetry, rituals, service, space, stories, traditions…

Just some of the things I have created so far this year…

rest – I continue to indulge my bedtime ritual, hand and foot massage, tea and book;
space – Tween and I cleaned out his closet;
play – swinging from the big tree in our front yard resets perspective;
stories – I have collected and edited such great stories for church publications;
health – always a work in progress as I try to move more and eat well;
peace – I have reveled in my love of reading, on my own and with Tween;
prayer – our family has prayed for loved ones using Christmas cards as a prompt;
balance – I am prayerfully considering open doors, allowing myself permission to say no as necessary;
healthy and delicious meals to nourish my family (some of which I will share on this blog);
friendship – I invest time in walks and evenings out with special people;
memories – Guy and I stayed up until the wee hours working with Teen on a school project, and I let Tween have ice cream for breakfast while we read in bed on a Sunday morning.

Have you noticed that interesting ideas spark during ordinary activities? My brother-in-law and I discussed creativity while we washed the Christmas china. Also a creative-type, he asked about my writing and goals for this year, and when I mentioned I had chosen “create” as my word for 2016, that I would attempt to structure my daily life and goals around that word, we hatched an idea about which I am beyond excited.

Throughout this year my blog will feature writers, painters, photographers, musicians, parents, teachers, missionaries, activists, philosophers, church leaders and more, all sharing perspectives on and experiences of creating. Together we are going to blow the roof of this word, “create.” We are going to see that it is so everyday true-to-life and still so crazy-spectacular. I can’t wait to learn from each guest post, and I’m so grateful for those who will join me in this creative adventure.

I am thrilled to be able to create a platform and community for people from all arenas of my life, living out their calling in such marvelous ways, to share about creative expression. The Create Challenge guest posts begin next Wednesday, friends!

Ready, set, CREATE!

Advent 4 – Knowing Peace

Around the time Teen hit middle school I began encouraging him each time he walked away: “Be your best you,” meaning make good choices and do your best and stay true to yourself. You can be yourself, but it takes intentionality to be your best version of yourself.happiness-project

So maybe it shouldn’t have surprised me to discover “Be Gretchen” at the top of Gretchen Rubin‘s Twelve Commandments of Happiness. Fill in your own name and it sounds easier than the reality. I may want to sing like Idina Menzel, or paint like Monet, or innovate like Steve Jobs, but those aren’t my gifts. Sure, I can practice and develop new skills – I can hire a vocal coach, or take a painting or business class – but honestly I probably won’t because those aren’t my gifts; those desires don’t drive me. Beating myself up over a false version of myself won’t make me happy. So I Be Me and employ Commandment #2: “Let it go.”wiz

I saw this on the screen as we watched The Wiz! this weekend. The things each character wanted – a brain, a heart, courage, home – were already theirs; they just had to believe.

Rubin’s pursuit of happiness strikes me as a key to peace: “Be Me” and “Let it go” lead to both happiness and peace. If I am at peace with myself, I have much higher likelihood of being at peace with you. And peace with myself starts with peace with God.

I’m not sure I would know how to be my best me if I didn’t know what God says about me. For example:

God made me – Psalm 139:13-14 says, “You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!”

God loves me and saved me – John 3:16-17 says, “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.”

I’m God’s child – John 1:12 says, “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.”

Jesus intends me to live a full life – John 10:10 records Jesus saying, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.”

God has given me specific gifts for specific work – 1 Corinthians 12:7 says, “A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other,” and Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”

God will help me – Hebrews 4:16 says, “So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.”

Hearing and believing these truths from God’s Word free me up from discouragement and free me to be my best self. I’m created by God, and God doesn’t make junk. I am loved by God, which gives my life value. I am gifted and empowered by God to do good work and live a full life.

I read this prayer this week, and it speaks straight to this point:

Dear God: Please untie the knots that are in my mind, my heart and my life. Remove the have nots, the can nots, and the do nots that I have in my mind. Erase the will nots, may nots, might nots that may find a home in my heart. Release me from the could nots, the would nots, and the should nots that obstruct my life. And most of all, Dear God, I ask that you remove from my mind, my heart and my life all of the ‘am nots’ that I have allowed to hold me back, especially the thought that I am not good enough. Amen.

Blessings on these last few days of Advent 2015!advent wreath

Week 4 – Knowing Peace
December 20-24

Read and light four candlesThe first candle represents the expectation of the One who will bring Peace. The second candle represents God’s peace in us. The third candle represents the call to make peace with one another. The fourth candle represents the Gospel of peace.

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Read Scripture: Ephesians 2:14-18

Read: Jesus Christ is our peace. On the cross He defeated sin and death and tore down the wall separating us from God. He destroyed our interior walls which kept us from being whole and holy. He shattered the walls that separate us from one another, human distinctions that matter nothing to Him. Christ fought the battles to win peace for us. Come, let us worship the Prince of Peace!

Pray: Dear God, thank you for the good news of peace. In the name of Jesus we pray for peace, Amen.

 

Monday John 17:3 How do you enjoy eternal life here on earth?
Tuesday Acts 10:36 How has the good news of peace through Jesus Christ changed your life?
Wednesday Romans 5:1 How does peace with God affect your daily life?
Thursday 2 Corinthians 5:20 With whom does God want you to share His peace?

Thankful Thursday – Life is More than Worry

As Church Communication Director, this week before Thanksgiving is always one of the busiest work weeks of the year as we rush to get Christmas PR printed, in the mail, up around town, in the newspaper, you name it. The creative work, writing and designing, is mostly done, so this week is all about details – proofing and making sure each design in all its necessary formats gets to the right place and people at the right time. The devil is in the details and I am no devil.

I can’t get stressed, though. The irony? This year’s theme is PEACE. No sense at all worrying about peace.

Today I got a kick in the tail in the best way. One of my favorite weekly activities, I have the privilege of leading a small group of delightful women in our moms’ group at church. I love these women. They are light and bright and smart and deep. Our speakers today talked about change and taking intentional steps toward positive change in our lives. Several of my gals are engaged in total life upheaval, not entirely by choice. And yet even in difficult situations, our response is our responsibility. We can still choose to make changes that make us better.moms 15

The gal seated next to me almost died from a fluke illness this fall. I kept rubbing her back, teary eyed, so grateful for her life. And to hear her talk about the peace that sustained her during her illness, the overwhelming sense of angels watching over her, the comfort that whatever happened God held her in His hands… Me, choking back tears because she couldn’t have said those words when we met a couple years ago. I am grateful for her life and for the joy of watching her grow in faith.

Listening to my gals encourage one another in situations I haven’t had to endure encouraged my heart. As I looked on, the words of Matthew 6 rolled around in my head:

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

A few of the staff studied this passage earlier this week. We noticed that most people we see daily aren’t worried about food; even when kids complain that “There is NO FOOD in this house!” there truly is, and no one will starve this week, or month, even if we stopped grocery shopping altogether. So I replaced “food” with “worry” in v. 25:

Is not life more than worry…?

Life is so much more than worry!

I am thankful for my friendships with these precious women who encourage one another and me. They add so much joy and love to my life.

I am thankful for a day off with my love after a season of working too hard and missing one another along the way. We walked the beach with our happy dog on a perfect San Francisco day, followed by a spontaneous splurge lunch at a marina-view restaurant.SF dog

I am thankful for an opportunity to serve with one of our church’s mission partners, Harbor House Ministries. All three of my guys have been there more than once, but today was my first time. Our middle school group plus a few parent chaperones served a Thanksgiving meal prepared by church folks; we also built relationships, did a craft, packed up leftovers for people to take home, and cleaned up. I talked with a mom of two darling girls; I don’t easily talk with people I don’t know, but we so easily connected over kids and this blessed place where her older daughter is safely cared for. Tween enthused about the “amazing” place called Harbor House and can’t wait to go back. I got to tag along while my kid’s heart changed. So good!

HH Thanksgiving

Life is so much more than worry. Life is love, encouragement, connection, work and rest in balance, service, and community. Life is our creative response to life’s own twists. Life is our responsibility to create, and life is our creative God’s good gift. He already said, “It is good.” Now it’s our turn.

Slow Down

An ordinary afternoon dog-walk around the neighborhood turned gruesome. A car passed just as I noticed a squirrel hunkered in the middle of the lane. Car 1 slowed down, paused until two cars were directly opposite in the other lane, and then blared its horn. Horn terrified Squirrel who leaped sideways under the tire of Car 2, followed by the wheels of Car 3. No kidding, I squeaked in horror.

All three cars drove on, while Dog and I had to continue our walk past twitching, then dead-still, squirrel. Because God loves all His creatures, I prayed for this little one.

I felt dirty, complicit for having witnessed this scene. It happened so quickly but it seemed Car 1 deliberately honked at exactly the wrong moment, that it could have honked earlier or later, or simply stopped for a moment. That the rush of life was just too much.

Last summer I read a book that referenced “the Gronk,” the driver behind you who honks incessantly the very second the red light turns green. Like the extra five seconds he might rush you to the gas pedal mean that much? Seriously, dude, chill!

A few days later Guy and I took Dog for another stroll. Same neighborhood, different street, equally gruesome: the smallest fawn I’ve ever seen lay in the roadside grass. At first we didn’t notice it as it was so out of place; someone driving too fast must have hit it hard to launch it out of the road and over the sidewalk; and then we saw it twitch. Morning commute had it out for this beauty.

All this during the first week of summer, and meanwhile my kids’ friends were too busy or too tired to play and their moms already seemed harried. Don’t get me wrong, we have a few things going on, too, but balanced with a big dose of summertime do-nothing. Because “Boredom = Opportunity.”

Summer is not a sprint. Honestly, it’s a gift, much like the Sabbath we so dutifully ignore. Long, hot days make our bodies and brains want to move slower, to float in the pool, to sip cool drinks over laughter-filled chats with friends, to play and rest – and work as necessary – in a different rhythm.

We slowed down with a week of family vacation. Leisurely strolls along the beach, hunting for beach glass, reading good books, eating and sleeping as much as needed and then a little more.

“Regular” life necessarily isn’t vacation, but we can bring elements of vacation, of rest, into “regular” life:
Turn off social media
Do something that stretches you beyond your comfort zone
Move your body playfully
Learn something new
Make dinner a family carpet picnic of kid-friendly finger foods
Schedule outings with friends
Create something; if that intimidates you, color in a coloring book
Turn off the TV and read a book
Play a board game
Pamper yourself
Do something you haven’t done since childhood and laugh yourself silly along the way

Yesterday I worked, and then I met a friend and her sweet daughter for a mani/pedi. I usually do my own nails, but after a week of beach walking my feet were a wreck. It felt terrific, and the time with these dear ones filled me up. During a brief conversational lull I glanced up at the large screen TV – mercifully playing without sound – to catch a glimpse of a road sign that read:

LIFE IS PRECIOUS
SLOW DOWN

Yes, that’s it! Perhaps we don’t even see the carnage we create as we race from Point A to B to Z, the lost life or lost opportunities or the children for whom we’ve scheduled too many activities when they truly only want more time with us, their parents.

What would it take for you to slow down? What can you do today, tomorrow, this week, this month, to intentionally stop the madness? Life is precious, and I don’t want to miss the beauty.

slowing-down-gift

The #Day Challenge

I’ve picked up an odd habit this year: I have said Yes! to an assortment of (mostly) online challenges, all for a set number of days:

The 30 Day Power Purge
Soulful Spring Cleaning: A 30-Day Life Reboot
Lenten disciplines, an annual 40 day adventure
The Body Love Experiment 21 Day Challenge
40 Days of Prayer (for a season in our church life)
Clean Eating 30 Day Challenge

Hmm, now that I look at the list, I see that my challenges center on a theme: cleaning out and cleaning up, whether it’s the kitchen junk drawer, my attitudes or relationships, my eating and exercise habits, or my prayers. Sometimes I crack myself up!

With the arrival of summer vacation, I am reminded of the theme song to one of my favorite animated TV shows, Phineas and Ferb:

There’s a 104 days of summer vacation
And school comes along just to end it
So the annual problem of our generation
Is finding a good way to spend it

Phineas Ferb

Around here it’s 72 days of summer, unless you’re in middle school and then you have 73. In any case, a finite number of days with the challenge to fill them well.

Truth: my kids can get pretty sludgey. I can almost watch them melt into primordial ooze as they stare blankly into screens – phone, computer, or TV. They’ll get up eventually, to eat or use the facilities, but return to their well-worn cushions of thoughtlessness. They get less creative and more grouchy as the day wears on.

I can’t have it, and I know from years of experience that they lack the drive of Phineas and Ferb and I lack the skills to make a good summer cruise director. However, I make a pretty good chart and so, some years ago, I devised a summer activity chart for each child. They have to do 5 activities each day, each for at least 20 minutes, and all of them at least once between Monday and Friday. There is no screen time between 9am and 4pm unless both boys have completed their five activities. If they complete all activities at least once before the end of Thursday then Friday might contain even better activities and treats.

Each year I tweak each kid’s chart – new interests and strengths (and occasionally, new weaknesses) require different activity suggestions. I’ve intentionally made the activities general so the kids can apply their creativity to how they will complete the activities.

For example, this year Teen’s activities include: reading, exercising, Eagle Scout project, creativity, writing, Bible, act of kindness, chores, and extra chore.

Tween’s activities include: reading, physical play (exercise, but at 11yo it’s still “play”), creativity, Bible, trumpet, Khan Academy, Typeracer.com, writing, act of kindness, chores, and extra chore.

Yesterday was the first Monday of summer. I reminded the kids Sunday evening that the charts were coming. All warning aside, when they saw the charts you might have thought I’d told them the world had cancelled summer. Teen threatened to leave the house, all day all summer. Tween, less mobile and just as determined, followed suit. I calmly explained that less than two hours of activity suggestions in 14+ hours of sunlight – and they have lots of choice in every regard – was not an unreasonable request, and yes, they’d still get plenty of screen time, fun- and friend-time. And then I left them to it while I walked the dog and walked off my frustration.

I do realize that at 11 and 16 years old it is less plausible that they will enjoy checking things off a chart. However, I also realize that they don’t transition well, that they benefit from lists and suggestions, and a chart has proven more effective than repetitive mom-reminders. And I need a) time to do what I need to do and b) time with them, and the chart helps them know what they should do with and without me.

Despite their initial loud and dramatic protests, they settled in. Among other things, Teen went for a bike ride that led to a hike that led to tree climbing; Tween played tether ball, cleaned the tortoise enclosure, and we read together.

As we read, Teen came in with a bottle of bubbles a friend gave him in honor of getting his driver’s license. He obviously thought it was funny to blow bubbles at us; we found it funny, too. The bubbles were captivating, iridescent in the sunlight, big and small and beautiful. He put the bubble wand in front of Tween’s bedroom fan, then went to fetch another bottle of bubbles so he had two wands to create a bubble wonderland. Tween bounced on the bed to catch bubbles with his hands, his feet, even his mouth.

bubbles

We played and laughed and caught and popped bubbles for I don’t know how long. Eventually Teen was done. Tween and I finished reading our chapter, and then I made the craziest suggestion: push me on the swing? Tween couldn’t believe it.

We have a swing in the big pine tree in our front yard. It’s been on my mind for weeks, waiting for the ‘right’ moment, and this was it. I sat on the swing and, at first, Tween leaned against the tree, ridiculously smirking at me. He couldn’t believe Mom was doing such a kid-thing. But why not? So he pushed me, and I squealed, and we laughed some more.

The day started with battle cries and ended with hysterical laughter. Energized by day’s end (and not drained!), I’ve created my own activity chart. My sons’ mother, I also benefit from lists and suggestions, evidenced by the number of #Day Challenges I’ve undertaken this year. So I’ve joined my kids in the challenge of how to fill our summer days well. My chart includes: work (of course), exercise, reading, creativity, Bible, blog, “project” (a little something I need to get into gear), and purge (once begun, constantly in progress).

And on Day 2, I can already say with confidence: it’s working for all of us. I’ve completed at least five if not more of my activities each day, and so have the kids. Today they didn’t complain at all. I had to go to the office for a couple hours and Tween texted me a picture of his chart with check marks and the word, “Finished!”

Too soon we’ll have to say, “Finished!” to summer and “Hello” to a new school year. But I’m determined to fulfill this 72-day Summer Challenge and live the days well.