gratitude

something different

It is Monday again somehow. I spent part of last week and half the weekend at a large academic conference, and I was presenting this time, so it has consumed a good bit of effort from the past few weeks to be ready for that.  It feels good to have it checked off my list. Yesterday I crammed all the usual prep for the work week into the few free hours I had. Today is Jude’s ninth birthday, so I baked a coffee cake to greet him when he wakes up, and we will do what we always do and sit at our breakfast table and sing happy birthday to greet another year.

Right now, as I type this, the house is quiet and it is still dark outside. Coffee on my left and the dog sleeping in front of me with only the glow of my favorite lamp and the screen in front of me. I always wake up an hour before the rest of the house. The only time of my day where I can feel the space around me and in front of me and slow my pace enough to settle in. This is my favorite hour.

Where to even begin with this? Saturday I finished up the conference just in time to catch Rob Bell’s Atlanta stop on his Holy Shift tour. Pete Rollins was the opener, and I also grabbed a ticket for the Q&A session an hour before the show started. My brain was so fried from 3 days of academic jargon that I was a little worried I wouldn’t be able to rally for hours of talk on God and humanity and philosophy, but they both grabbed me with their material, and it was the best night I’ve had in such a long, long time. As always, what I needed to hear found me at exactly when I needed to hear it.

As Pete Rollins opened, he spoke a bit about that space between what we are and what we want to be – the ways that it can motivate and it can also create pain. The story of Adam and Eve shows us this. As does psychology (what is out of reach is always what you crave) and Greek myths, too. But Rollins rolled on with that Oscar Wilde quote, “There are two tragedies in life: one is not getting what you want and the other is getting it.” And he spoke about how we always think that next thing is what will make us happy, but in reality it never does. I think I forget this – that the secret to life actually lies in the longing, the desiring. Until you lock into that space of longing for something just outside of your reach, you can absorb a kind of inertia. (Something Rob Bell has coined as death by wallpaper and flooring on an earlier talk. A slow, steady death I see all around me in this chapter of my life. People who are asleep at the wheel all day long.)

I think the image Rollins left with us that won’t leave me alone is the idea that we are all haunted houses full of ghosts rumbling somewhere just beneath what we can access in our daily lives. He asserts that only when we are dreaming can we access this real space and we have to, in a sense, go to sleep when we wake up to begin our days so that we can get on with the usual business of life and distract ourselves from all these existential questions.  As someone who swears that my dreams speak to me sometimes (especially lately), I feel this so closely.

The whole intention of this tour is to explore the word holy with both its ancient context and its modern use, and Rob Bell came out after Rollins to do just that. (Here we are in 2018, and someone can come to an empty stage, one microphone, one chair, and no screen, and talk for nearly two hours about the word holy. Amazing.)

He used the story of Isaiah who claims he had a vision of the throne of God as angels circled saying Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh which is Hebrew for holy, and he jumped forward to what exactly does that word mean anyway, and how can we harness that in 2018.

I cannot condense two hours into a few paragraphs, but essentially what I came to hear and to hold a little closer to my own experience is this — Some things cannot be explained. And what is holy never makes sense in our immediate lives. When something makes me feel big (motherhood) or small (staring up at the night sky) or when something is just too weird as he so simply called it (the million instances in my life where things just cannot be rationally explained) … all of these things show me that there is just this space where I stand sometimes that I need to hold a little more loosely. I need to perhaps stop trying to connect the dots and just let it be and know that this is something different than the rational, something sacred and set apart only for me and my particular path.

I thought I was there already, but this past month has shown me that I am not. I could hold it all a little more loosely than I do. I could trust a little more.

In one of my favorite of Bell’s talks that I have downloaded and listened to repeatedly, he says, “When we suffer, often our first instinct, our first impulse, is we want answers and we want them now. And that longing and desire is driven by if I just had a black and white, clear cut explanation as to why it would perhaps fix this pain that I am holding that I don’t quite know what to do with. But in my experience, I don’t know if explanations and answers are ultimately what help us heal. Why did that particular cell mutate that way? Why did that car hit that patch of ice? Why did that person’s heart become hard in that way?  Would a clear explanation of that really help a person begin the long, slow road of putting one foot in front of the other and begin to heal and imagine a new tomorrow? …. There is an absolute universal truth I know for sure and it is this. When we suffer, this too will shape us.”

Two weeks ago, when my kids had been at dad’s for the weekend, they rolled in at 5pm, and we sat down in the little playroom to the right of the front door. Jude was babbling about something; I don’t remember what. Norah was trying to interrupt him to say something as well, and she laid down on top of me on the floor so that her head was on my chest, and I was just lying there on the floor looking up at Jude sitting there next to me talking and talking. He laughed at something; I don’t remember what it was, and it didn’t matter. And I don’t know what it was about that particular second. Maybe that I’d had a hard weekend battling my own never-ending need for answers and demons of self-doubt. Or maybe just that the house was full of smiles and noise again, and there was fall afternoon sunlight spilling through the front window.

But whatever the reason, I know that one full sentence ran through my brain unbidden. Maybe I am building something different than I knew I was. Unexpected words that come from someplace else are another way that the holy shows up for me.

I don’t even know entirely what that means yet and where to put it. But I think it is connected to all of what I heard on Saturday night. There is no end game where I stand. This is not some stepping stone to a perfect plateau that I can see stretched in front of me. This is now and here, and that is all I can see. Instead of connecting the dots, I’m going to hold it all a little more loosely. Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh. Maybe I am building something different than I knew I was.

 

 

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Life and Randomness

birth pangs

I have been waking in the middle of the night a lot lately. Unable to go back to sleep for quite a while, but eventually I do and then I am so sleepy when my alarm rings. It will pass, but my body has some humming energy with it these days that I haven’t felt in a such a long time.

Two nights ago, I had a succession of three vivid dreams right in a row. The first one found me in some unfamiliar house, and there was a sleeping person in the basement and others crowded around her telling everyone to sshhhhh stay quiet as not to wake her. I would tip toe around her and hear her stir and get scared I was going to be the one to wake her up. Then I walked upstairs and back down again, and the light in the kitchen woke this person up while I was standing in the middle of it. Everyone was a chaotic mess and looking straight at me as the culprit. I felt the guilt of it, and I was frantically trying to turn off the kitchen light with no switch to be found.

Dream 2. I am in a house again. But this time I am in a room of a house I lived in during college that has been torn down years ago. And my close friend and I (actually the same one I referenced in the last post) were saying, Isn’t this nice? To be in a dream where we can come back to this place that doesn’t exist anymore?

Dream 3. I am in a house I have never seen before, but in the dream it is mine. There is water coming in through the roof, pouring through the ceiling and dripping down the walls. I am trying to stop it at first, but then I just watch it happen with total surrender, understanding I can’t do anything about it anyway.

I know it is not as simple as looking up some magic symbol in a dream dictionary. But I also know what it feels like when some other subconscious piece of me is trying desperately to tell the rest of me something. Sometimes dreams, if we are patient with them and sit with them a minute, are trying to tell us something that we aren’t seeing otherwise. These three for me were so vivid and so strange that I have not been able to shake them.

Jung believed that dreams of houses represent the self and your various levels of consciousness. I don’t know about that, but I do know that I somehow feel like I have awakened some sleeping giant in the basement in this past two weeks, one I was trying to ignore and hope she’d sleep forever. And I was frantically trying to find a way to turn off that light switch and put her back to sleep, but she is awake now. I am for certain back in a space that I thought was torn down, long gone. And at first I tried to fight the water pouring in on all sides, but now I just let it flow.

Grief is cyclical. Things like intuition and spirit and emotion never move in a linear way, but they are always leading me where I am meant to be. And I am not even certain I can say I am grieving. That is not the right word. It’s more like an ache that echos and I don’t know what it means or where it came from — only that it needed to be here in this space and time in order to birth me onward to something new. I turn on the news, and I see the same thing collectively in our entire culture. Like it’s all boiling over for a lot of us.

This just happens sometimes, and I have lived long enough to know that I need to wait it out. Sit down and let it wash over and handle me however it needs to. Tears are like baptism, and I did nothing but write all weekend. Creation always has some scary, stirring energy that comes along with it.

I was thinking about this concept today when I was standing in line at the grocery store, and I remembered when Norah was born. I can remember when it was really intense, just beyond the scope of what I thought I could handle, when I’d swear aloud that I cannot handle another contraction, and then it would come and I would breathe through the pain, and then it would pass. Then the next one would come, and I would somehow forget everything I’d known, everything — forget that I’d already been doing this for hours, that I was doing this now, forget that I was born to do this. I’d feel sure of nearly nothing anymore. Repeat, breathe. Repeat, breathe. And just when I thought – for the millionth time – that I couldn’t do it anymore, that is when she came. Crying and bloody and messy and staring at me with the quietest eyes like she always knew we would meet and always knew it would be that second and in that exact place.

What if the whole world works like this? Every new and amazing thing that is born in my life. Every new and amazing piece of myself that I bring forth. What if the act of creation always puts you through a dark spot first? Breathe, repeat, breathe, repeat. Again and again until the new thing comes forward and looks at you with eyes that seem to say it was always supposed to be that way.

Life and Randomness

trigger

It’s been a hard couple of weeks in the news. I know so many women who are having to turn away, and sometimes I do as well. It feels like the same message is taking different forms and swirling, swirling in the universe for me to grab hold and bring it to the light for a better look.

I unloaded to my friend last weekend about some personal battles I’m having in my own head and heart and some hardships she is facing, and she mentioned that Pema Chodron quote, Nothing goes away until it has taught us what we need to learn. And look at us, here in 2018, still having public conversations about who is to blame for someone taking advantage of a woman’s body, her trust, the essence of who she is.

Look at me in 2018, at nearly 38 years old, still wondering if I am to blame for my own heartaches. It is all the same thing.

Do you know how many times a day I say either aloud or in my own head that I am sorry about something? Or that I should have done better? Or that I should have some kind of future-vision where I could see something coming before it gets here and read through someone’s false exterior like an x-ray? Or any other number of questions I use to dig through emotional labor like a shovel through gravel in the wreckage left behind by a man in one form or another. Always in a soft space where I am looking for the kindest way to respond, looking for the silver lining, trying to put pieces together in a way that fits. But sometimes none of it fits. None of it. You just have to leave it there untouched and unanswered.  I guess I’m saying tonight that it feels heavy and I’m tired of my own softness.

I am trying so hard, so so hard, to believe that there are men in this world who are kind and real and honest and mature and can do hard things. But I have been proven wrong so many times that I am losing faith, friend. Losing it fast.

And even as I type this, I think don’t post this because clearly someone who has repeated heartbreak with the same scenario playing on repeat like a broken record is at the root of her own pain somehow.  But can you see what that is? Again looking for a way that I am to blame for someone else’s dishonesty.

I had a night this weekend where I was alone in the darkness trying to sleep, and it felt like such deja vu that was so long ago buried in my body that I forgot what it even felt like until it bubbled to the surface again. I was right back to a place I’d rather forget and it felt unwarranted but real, so incredibly real – that voice in my head and my gut, that heaviness and quiver. I talked myself out of it for days and days, telling myself it was trauma buried somewhere and resurfacing unnecessarily and I shouldn’t listen to it – to my own blood and bones and frame and gut that knew what it knew without reason. I was telling myself it was wrong.

But the body never lies does it? My wiser self is always in there somewhere saying can you hear me? knock knock. Until louder and louder it goes. And even then sometimes I blame my own self and call it a misdirection. But she is right every time, my body. Every time she speaks to me, I need to listen. Nothing goes away until it has taught us what we need to learn.

I asked that same friend tonight on the phone – through a few tears and a lot of her refrains of I know, I know – how many times a heart can take a beating before it just closes for business. Tonight I feel as though I am at my limit. In my own life, when I watch the news, when I look at a string of days behind me that I would rather forget or at least be able to write over again.  When I think about doing this again and again, I want to give up and just harden it and close the doors for a while.

But I know that my heart is a muscle the size of my fist and it somehow keeps beating again and again. Yours does too.  Nothing goes away until it has taught us what we need to learnNothing goes away until it has taught us what we need to learn. I’m letting these words flow over me tonight like water, letting them slide and sink in the dark as I fall asleep. I don’t feel the deja vu anymore at all – no shakes and no quivers and no tightness in my center. All I can feel now is the quiet rush of my own self here again, the same as she ever was. Sore but not broken.

Today I drove home from work in the late afternoon light. My drive is long but mostly rural and beautiful and winding. I was exhausted from work and the questions tumbling in my head the last few days. And I remembered the day I moved from my old house – my married home – when I was coming out of a season of my body screaming at me for months and months before I listened. My friend, a fellow single mom halfway across the world raising her girls alone, sent me a song as a moving soundtrack. This played on repeat for me for nearly half of that day as I packed the last few boxes and swept the dust from the corners of the empty rooms in that house that felt like a haunted museum.

I flippantly put that same song on today as I rounded a curve, and I turned it loud as I drove toward the sunset to a quiet and empty house of my own waiting for me.

I didn’t expect it, but my chin quivered when she began the second verse – And I’ve been a fool and I’ve been blind. I can never leave the past behind. I can see no way, I can see no way .I’m always dragging that horse around. Then the tears came with my favorite line – I am done with my graceless heart. So tonight I’m gonna cut it out and then restart. A long and winding road with the music loud and the tears flowing will get you where you need to be. Every time.

Here’s to cutting it out. Every last graceless piece of me that blames myself for someone else’s actions. It’s hard to dance with the devil on your back, sure. But the heaviest horse I carry, the one that hangs on my back like some never ending shadow is that command I have absorbed that tells me that it is my job to clean up any mess left and make neat, beautiful piles from the wreckage.

Tonight, I’m not sweeping anything. I am letting it be. Shaking it out and out and out again until all that is left is who I am underneath the heartache – solid and true. Grace upon grace upon grace. I believe every story my body tells me, every true and right thing she whispers. And I believe yours, too.

 

 

single parenthood

all in all the time

It is mid-afternoon on Saturday, and the kids are away. I had to give a work-related presentation this morning, so this feels more like a Friday than a true weekend, and I am trying to think of all the ways I can find the fast track to relaxation. Maybe a bath or a slow dinner or a good soundtrack. But writing always gets me there faster than anything else does, so here I am.

The kids and I went away last weekend for the Labor Day holiday – back to one of our favorite spots in the mountains of northwest Georgia.  It was fun, and it was exhausting… which seems to be the theme of my time with these two lately.

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We spent three nights in the woods, and I more or less just let kids be kids. It was three days of loud noise and sweaty shirts and sticky hands and a body that was so bone-tired every night as we fell asleep in the darkness that I didn’t mind the hard surface beneath me.

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I’ve had a lot of frustrations with parenting lately, and it is like some grumbling thing that I cannot even entirely put words to very easily. It’s under the surface, and I never have time or space or silence to comb through it. I think it is mostly just exhaustion. The start of a school year is a shock to the system, and every year the demands grow a bit. The homework and the expectations and the after school clubs and activities and the big feelings that begin to brew in these years. They have likes and dislikes and blooming personalities and so many needs. It is not the same as the never-ending needs of a baby which are just physical mostly. This is different.

They need me to be all in all the time with them, and it’s hard to even finish typing this sentence through the mom guilt, but the truth is that I cannot be all in all the time. I need a rest sometimes. And of course other times it’s that I need to think about something else — like my own classes I’m planning for my students or my own writing goals or maybe even a personal or relational thought sometimes about the million other things that make me a human being. In short, I wish I had super powers to be on all the time with them … or maybe just a clone of myself to be at home stirring dinner on the stove while this self takes them to activities or stays in the office a couple extra hours to catch up.

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I tried to stop the clock last weekend, to run away to the woods and hit the pause button. There were some beautiful moments, but it wasn’t entirely a pause button. My brain hummed the whole time with other things as well. It pains me to write that, but it is true.

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I’ve been listening to a Ram Dass lecture series when I’m in my car or washing dishes, and in a portion I heard yesterday, he said something along the lines of taking something seriously doesn’t make it go away any faster. It made me laugh. It’s so pervasive in our society to see everything uncomfortable as a problem to be solved or as a pathology of some kind. His words encouraged me to try to look at my current feelings of overwhelm with some playful curiosity instead.

What would it look like to accept that this is life and this is single parenting and I cannot be all in all the time?

What would it look like to do the best I can and leave the rest well enough alone?

What would it look like to lessen the weights in my life that bring me chaos by just taking everything a little lighter, a little less seriously?

Yesterday morning, the kids were moving slowly and it took at least five commands of BRUSH YOUR TEETH to make that happen. I couldn’t find the right mate for Norah’s sock, and when I finally did, I came downstairs to see that the dog had thrown up twice in the middle of the kitchen floor. As I cleaned that up, I remembered that we didn’t do Norah’s reading homework the night before, so I told her to get started then and we’d get it done just in time for the bus. Jude had his backpack on and begged to walk out to his friends at the bus stop, and I told him no. He’d have to wait on his sister. He paced and huffed and asked again, but when he realized I was serious, he just sat down next to her and helped her. And I’m not exaggerating when I say that the three minutes of their quiet concentration and his gentle help was the absolute highlight of my entire week. It was over fast enough, and we rushed out the door, and the rest of Friday’s demands tumbled after.

I am Jude sometimes – pacing and hurrying and sighing and grumbling and wishing things were different. But I think maybe if I would just sit down it could make it all better and let the space settle around me. Perhaps I need to take a deep breath and know that I won’t miss the bus, that I am here and this is real and I am always right on time.

gratitude, Life and Randomness, single parenthood

sacred

We are almost to the end of August, my least favorite month. Routines are not quite established yet, and it all feels new. Once we are in the swing of things, it makes me feel a little more firmly held. But not yet.

Yesterday’s schedule had us leaving the house at 7:30 in the morning and walking back in the door at 7:20pm, a routine that will feel normal in a few more weeks, but last night I went to bed depleted and frazzled. These years and their packed lunch boxes and homework checks and ballet tights and sports practices. It’s no wonder older parents swear to me that it flies so quickly.  The rhythm of my academic life mirrors my kids’ seasons as my work schedule gains speed right when theirs does. Most weeks race like a mad dash to the finish line.

School year routines can feel good and firm and safe though – once I get used to them again. But they can also feel overwhelming. I was drowning in work tasks this last few days, unsure if I could finish things in time, and the frantic brain wasn’t helping. All of my mental browsers open at the same time, like a desk full of scribbled post-its. Yesterday morning I vowed to take a long look at my list, choose what was most important (not necessarily most urgent), and do only one thing at a time. Suddenly instead of spinning my wheels, I was checking things off my list. Multi-tasking never works as well as we think it does.

Urgency and priority are not the same thing.

The hard part about this time of year – and perhaps about parenting or even existing as a human in the modern world at all – is that it is actually up to me and only me to name the priorities in my life and to hold them sacred. No one is going to help me with that. And even worse, what the world demands of me, what is screaming loudest for my attention, is hardly ever what I truly value most. It is not easy holding those things firmly in their place at the front of my life.

I heard an interview with Wintley Phipps on the way to work this morning, and he talked about partnership and character. He said something like if you ask someone what they hold sacred and they cannot name a single thing, that person is not someone you want to be with. It’s a concept that made me stop and think and replay it in my head and then toss the word sacred in my brain and heart all day long. Sacred, holy, set apart, inviolable, unassailable, cherished, revered. (the synonym game)

He was speaking specifically about marriage and partnership, and it spoke right to me and gave voice to something I’ve thought a lot about in the last year or so and didn’t quite have words for yet. But apart from relationships, it also made me think about my own self and what I hold sacred.  What is revered most and what feels holy in my own life.

Sacred to me is never what screams the loudest for attention. It is early quiet mornings when it is still dark outside and my kids are sleeping, and I am stumbling through the kitchen to feed the dog and brew coffee. It is time with only the three of us. It is the ways they share the tiniest pieces of their days just before their eyes get heavy, just after I have turned off the lamp beside them. Sometimes sacred is something simple like a lunch at my desk with my office door closed to students, or early evening light through the kitchen window while I stir something on the stove. Sacred is laughing at something one of the kids said that I wasn’t expecting to hear. It is a handwritten card or a quick note from someone. The sound of a voice on the telephone line in the age of too many text messages. It is typing words on a screen and printing them on a page to edit with a favorite pen. It’s reading a book in the late lamplight before I go to sleep.

I am not always a pessimist about the modern world – usually quite the opposite actually. But this is one area where we are not winning at all. The very things that hold most of us together don’t happen unless we claim them and notice them. And somehow that gets harder to do with every passing year and the hurried pace we all measure ourselves against.

Perhaps my resolution for the academic year ahead is just to see things through this lens. To ask myself the right question everyday – Is this important or it this just urgent? To seek the sacred and recognize it for what it is and demand space for it everyday. I once heard boundaries described like the careful hand we place around the tiny flame on a birthday candle as the voices sing and we prepare the cake for its moment on the table. That tiny burning flame that needs a shield from the space around it in order to survive. It’s up to me to name what’s holy and to shield it from all the rest.

Life and Randomness

still the same thing

My kids started school yesterday. (We do it early here in Georgia, but they get a few scattered breaks throughout the year.) They woke up excited, hopped on the bus with friends, and came home with details and excitement to spare. But when we sat around the dinner table last night, it somehow felt like there was no break at all. Like I was just doing this with a kindergartener and a second grader, and I blinked, and now I guess we are here with a first grader and a third grader. The days are swirling so fast.

Lying in bed last night, I was thinking of what this feels like lately. I thought about when someone has a stack of papers or a handful or receipts or something, and then the wind blows and it takes the pieces flying in all directions across a parking lot or a busy sidewalk. The person flails around unsuccessfully trying to get them back as they blow away. That is my life lately. The second I think it is in my hands, it has flown away and we are on to a new stage.

They got back from their Europe trip just over a week ago. All they wanted to do was lie down in a pile of blankets and watch a movie, and I was happy to play along. There is a lot of push and pull happening for all three of us lately. Independence and time apart this summer, and then remembering what home feels like.

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Yesterday I waved kids off from our crowded bus stop for the fourth year. Four. I can hardly believe that somehow. We have been here in this shape with these four walls for almost half of Jude’s life and most of Norah’s. This is not a transition year at all for us. No fresh start at a new school for anyone. Norah has the same teacher Jude had two years ago. We are familiar to one another, and she hugged me as I walked into the meet and greet a few days ago. I lingered at the bus stop today with a hot coffee mug and other moms who know me well and see my kids everyday. We’ve made a cocoon here, and I’m feeling more than ever that it is what I once prayed for — peace and home and roots that have grown deep in this place. When I have eyes to see that, I understand that I lack for nothing.

I listened to the latest episode of Spiritualish yesterday afternoon as I cleaned in my quiet house while the kids were gone. One of the hosts is in her mid-forties and a mother to a teenager, and the frame of the entire episode was how midlife and adolescence are essentially the same thing. Or that maybe we at least have something to learn from reflecting on what our issues were in adolescence and perhaps they just reappear in another form in midlife. This thought blew my mind and struck a chord that I keep thinking about and turning over again and again in my head.

I think what we all wanted in adolescence was the same thing – freedom and autonomy and faces that looked back at us with a recognition of who we really are. And I’d venture to say that is what people want in midlife as well.

When I taught high school, I could see so clearly that is what my students wanted, but I could also see that some students really got it and went about chasing those things in a way that worked — exploring and coming to know themselves better, making choices that were true to themselves, and sometimes challenging authority but in a thoughtful and authentic way that helped to shape the path they were carving for themselves. And of course some students chased those things in all the wrong ways — pretending to be something they were not, self-destructive behaviors and distractions, trying on relationships that anyone could see were not working for them, and pushing against authority and traditional wisdom just to prove something.

And here I am in midlife (or close to it. Is late 30’s midlife yet?) and I watch my peers doing the same thing. It is exactly the same. When we were teenagers, we realized that the structure and life we’d known was not working for us anymore. It’s still the same thing at midlife. The status quo is not working for anyone anymore, and you have two options: chasing all the wrong things and continuing to play the game or doing that hard work of self-exploration and having the courage to truly hit the reset button on aspects of our lives that are simply not working anymore. I suppose that is the difference between a midlife crisis (doing it all wrong) and a midlife awakening (doing it right). But at the root, we all want the same things.

I’m not certain where I am going with this except to say that this cocoon has felt so nice, and it is warm and familiar here, and I have all the things I have prayed for. But also I feel like I’m just getting started, and as I grow closer and closer to my 40th year, I can see that adolescence brewing again. Maybe I’ve been lucky that the storm that happened in my mid-thirties blew away anything that wasn’t working for me so that I could make new roots and start again and build my life intentionally from the ground up. In Tiny Beautiful Things, Cheryl Strayed writes a letter to a class of college graduates and tells them, “About eight of the ten things you have decided about yourself will over time prove to be false. The other two things will prove to be so true that you’ll look back in twenty years and howl.” I am almost to that 20 year mark, and sometimes I do feel like howling when I see what remains that I always knew deep down was true. That weird sense of deja vu when you don’t know where the years have gone or how you got here, but you always knew you’d feel like this.

Everyday brings new challenges with my kids and within my own self. Every morning brings a million tasks to be accomplished before we go to bed to wake up tomorrow and do it all again. The challenge is to carve a meaningful life that feels true in the midst of tackling so many small things.

Last night Norah leaned a little too hard on a small table in the corner of my living room. It toppled over and sent a glass candle crashing in a hundred pieces on the floor. It was nothing sentimental or valuable, but the commotion and drama made us all jump. I scooped it up and vacuumed the tiny pieces while she cried. I told her it was fine, but the tears were flowing anyway.

A few minutes later, she went upstairs for a bath, and she said, “You know what, Mama? Practice does not make perfect.” I asked her what she meant, and she said that today at school her teacher told them there is no such thing as perfect. “Practice makes better,” she explained.

I think maybe we never completely figure it out, do we? I don’t trust anyone who says they have. We practice and we practice and we get better, and eventually our lives start to look more like our own and our freedom starts to feel more vast everyday. We pretend to outgrow our old desires, but really we want the same things at 16 and at 36 and at 46. And if we do it the right way, with a little courage and intention, we move closer and closer with every year.

 

single parenthood

River

It is Saturday night, and I’m settled on my couch, and my kids are currently boarding a plane to fly across the ocean. They return to familiar soil in something like 9 more days, and then they are finally home to me a couple days after that.

I kissed them goodbye today by 11am, and since then I’ve walked the neighborhood with a podcast or two, cleaned the house, and browsed store aisles to waste time. I grocery shopped and watched television. And finally I took a bath and let the silence in my house settle around me like a blanket. All I can hear is the rhythm of the ceiling fan and the clacking of the keys as I type this.  I’ve been alone in this house a million times before, but it feels different with them going so far away.

I listened to the Super Soul interview with Richard Rohr this morning. I know I reference him so often here, but again, it is worth a listen if you have time.  He spoke about the general idea he explores in so many of his writings – that we all have a false self and a true self. That the task of growth and spirituality is that we have to shatter that false self somehow, crack that shell of the ego, to get to the real thing. And how it is often hardship that does this for us. I thought about that first post that I wrote years ago when I was trying to fit myself in the new box. I thought about all the times before and after that when I have had to shed a layer or two of ego and lean into the unknown. I thought about ways I am still learning that lesson. Like the Velveteen Rabbit in that classic story, becoming more real as I move along and as I age.

Though the initial crack, the big explosion, the biggest griefs of my past few years – those have forcefully pushed aside the false self that was so tightly wound – I am still losing layers sometimes, in both big and small ways. This is one of those things. as I sit here in the dark typing these lines. The removing of the motherhood hat, if even just for a week or two, the loosening of the tight grip. It feels itchy and weird to have no label or role to put on next week at all and to have half my heart across the ocean from where I sit now. But any good thing I have come to find has revealed itself at the edge of my comfort zone.

I told the kids yesterday that they could choose what we did last night since it was our last night together for a while. I was hoping for a cozy night in, but Norah had a Build-A-Bear gift card burning a hole in her pocket, so they begged for a trip to the mall. I do not enjoy the mall, and I think the last time I was there was perhaps Christmas time. It seemed like the opposite of what I was imagining our night should be, but I obliged. We got there, and they were short-staffed, so we waited for ages in line for her to make a bear. Jude got a metal fidget spinner to entertain him across the Atlantic, and then we opted for a food court dinner.

When we went to leave, the automated doors opened to heavier rainfall than I’ve seen since I don’t know when. I didn’t have an umbrella and didn’t want to swim to the car, so I suggested the little play area inside the mall to entertain us while we waited for it to pass. We did that and we browsed the displays in the Lego store, and I thought for sure the rain must be gone by now. We walked to the doors again and we found the same thing. Buckets and buckets of rain. At this point, I felt like we had to get home somehow, so I told them we would run for it.

We held hands and ran across the parking lot in that kind of rain that soaks you all the way through your underwear in only a few seconds. The kids were screaming and laughing, and before I knew it, I was too. When we finally made it to the car, Jude was cackling and saying how much fun it was while Norah was wide-mouthed and laughing at her reflection and at my dripping hair. Teddy bears and food court trays and rainstorms turned out to be the most perfectly imperfect and memorable send-off for what is our longest separation so far. But I would never have orchestrated it that way if I held the reins to it all.  Parenting always works like this, it seems. And the rest of life does, too. Even when life gives me something beautiful or perfect beyond my comprehension, it is never the way I would have written it myself.

I’m a planner to a fault and I know this about myself. It is hard for me to let go of things – to let go of timing and outcomes and expectations. I pay attention to my retirement account and I eat my vegetables and I wear sunscreen and I plan most everything in advance. And I think of the one million ways that something could go wrong in any given moment and how I could mitigate that damage if it does. I grocery shop weekly and write out our menu on a little dry erase board in my kitchen. I erased it this morning – no need to plan for only myself. And I wrote in its place a Rohr quote that I need to say again and again like a mantra: “Faith does not need to push the river because faith is able to trust that there is a river. The river is flowing. We are in it.” Amen and amen.

I am not pushing. It is hard, but I am holding steady. I’m leaning into the silence and the new and listening closer for the real. I trust that there is a river. I’ll ride the current.