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.

 

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we never know until we look back

How has half of June passed me by already? Summer days usually trail along a little slower than the rest of the year, but it doesn’t feel that way right now. I want to bottle it up and slow it down.

Last week was full of swimming lessons and sweaty outside play and sleepovers and late night movies and the first few red tomatoes from our patio. Then the kids left for Father’s Day weekend and the week ahead, and I am home with a long to-do list and suitcases to pack for our upcoming beach week. I’ve been reading Ron Rash’s Burning Bright which is painful and beautiful. He has an amazing talent for writing stories of struggle in ways that are honest and true.

I also ran across this photo piece and accompanying essay published in the NY Times for Father’s Day. The writer lost his father at 4, and I lost mine at 5, and so much of the details in this piece may differ from my experience, but the core of it runs parallel for me. He explains that “My friends’ fathers were present but seemed ordinary in comparison. Mine was absent but felt mythic.” That word, mythic, is one I haven’t placed on my own experience, but it is well chosen. I can remember once, years ago, a man I worked with was asking me about losing my father, and when he learned I was so young, he said something like “Oh, so it’s more like a void for you then?” I remember I responded with a pause and then “yeah, I guess, but I don’t know. Void doesn’t seem like the right way to say it.” But now that I have found mythic, that is it.

All those tiny, ordinary details become larger than life somehow. That he grew up on the beach and would happily swim much farther from shore than most sane people would. That he was a musician. That he had more culinary drive and talent than anyone else. That I ended up with a tattered copy of Srimad-Bhagavatam that belonged to him. That he gave me my middle name minutes after birth because I just look like a Katie Mae, he claimed. These little details would likely be inconsequential if he were still here next to me as I write this. But now they stand like mythic guideposts that sketch a frame of who he was.

We all do this with people when they die. They grow somehow to stand at more mythic heights. But I think we do this with certain periods of our lives as well. Hindsight filters our view. Memory is a curious thing.

I heard a RobCast episode recently where he was elaborating on that Old Testament moment in Exodus where God tells Moses you will never see my face; you will only see me as I go. The harsh reading of that almost sounds like God is taunting Moses, but Rob Bell’s discussion gave me a different perspective. It is only ever in the rear view mirror that we see the full beauty of everything.  We can try to feel it as it comes, and there is something to be said for presence and being conscious in the moment. But there really are just some things that cannot be fully revealed until later — as Cheryl Strayed says in that beautiful essay I love so much, “It’s almost never until later that we can draw a line between this and that.” It’s one of the most frustrating and the most incredible things about life, I think.

Bell says, “If it all came to you at once, it would fry your circuits. You’d be a wreck, a puddle on the floor. So the nature of a spiritual experience is that you want all the answers and you want it to be clear … the sense of where this is going or what to do next, you don’t want that. But what is the other option? That suddenly you have arrived? That would sear you to the bone. The way it works is that you are given the next thing that you can bear. You are shown enough to open you up … It’s a profound truth about the nature of spiritual experience. The way that it works is not big dramatic moments on top of a mountain… even that is just a glimpse … the day by day revealing.”

These might seem like two entirely separate things – the mythic portrait I carry of my father and the slow frame-by-frame revealing of the life I firmly stand in now, but in ways, I think they are the same thing. In both cases, it is only ever in the end that we see the whole mural, all of the colors and all of the lines and how each piece connected to another to build something beautiful. Parents do this when they look back at days when their grown children were younger. Long-term couples do this when they look back at their early days together and the little moments and stories that led to love. Eventually we see it in all of its beauty, but maybe right now one little glimpse at a time is enough.

I don’t know what this summer will be for me when I have the distance to see it for what it really is. Maybe it is when I am weaving my story on the page one line at a time or maybe it is when I am creating something else that it’s finally time for. Or maybe it is simply rest and sinking my heels in a little deeper and making slow progress on all of the tiny pieces of a life well lived that is uniquely mine. We never know until we get there, and for once in my life, I’m okay right here as I rest in the unknowing.

being before doing

It’s the day after Memorial Day, and summer break is officially here for the kids. It somehow doesn’t feel like I’m on break yet, but they are away next week, and I’m sure my 7-day stream of solitude will let summer’s real feeling come soon enough.

For now, it has been end-of-the-year awards and Boy Scout ceremonies and pool parties and a revolving door of neighborhood friends coming in and out. Popsicles and bare feet. It rained most of the day yesterday, and it is still falling as I type this. The house is a mess of legos and crayons, and I am trying to remember how numbered these days are to prevent my going crazy about the tiny doses of chaos.  I have such high hopes for this summer. Books to read and lines to write and spaces in my life and my house that need a reset. And yet I haven’t done a single piece of that yet because I’m chasing kids and making lunch to clean it up and then making a snack to clean it up and then making dinner to clean it up. And rinse and repeat.

My Richard Rohr emails come every night while I’m sleeping, and I use them to center myself before the chaos of the day. Every week, he takes a different focus, and for a good three years now, I have watched my life unfold in ways that always seem to parallel what he is writing about that particular week.  This week’s focus is on purpose and vocation, and he’s been providing passages from Parker Palmer’s work.

Palmer says, “[My newborn granddaughter] did not show up as raw material to be shaped into whatever image the world might want her to take. She arrived with her own gifted form, with the shape of her own sacred soul. . . . Thomas Merton calls it true self. Quakers call it the inner light, or ‘that of God’ in every person. The humanist tradition calls it identity and integrity. No matter what you call it, it is a pearl of great price. . . .The deepest vocational question is not ‘What ought I to do with my life?’ It is the more elemental and demanding ‘Who am I? What is my nature?'”

I know all of this and have heard it in so many forms and ways, and yet I still forget sometimes. It’s so easy to get caught up in the lists and the goals and the specific hopes and forget the essence of all of it, forget what runs underneath all of that. That who you are is the platform under what you do. That being comes before doing.

Palmer also references Frederick Buchner who insists that vocation is “the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” It’s a line that keeps running through my head as guidance for big picture questions – like what is my path – and little moment dilemmas – like how to find a happy balance in these four walls. Where my gladness meets what is needed is where the sweet spot exists. (I re-listened to Rob Bell’s “You Listening to You” last week, and he comments on this as well. My purpose cannot be different than what brings me gladness. God doesn’t design us that way.)

I’m not sure if it is a woman thing or a parent thing or just an aspect of my personality that I can sometimes be a little scared of following gladness for the sake of joy and nothing else. I have viewed it as an extra, a bonus, instead of a guidepost to determine if I am on the right track. I lean in and I exhale and I have fun in the moment, but then it’s easy to roll that soundtrack in the back of your head that tells you that it’s not that simple. But what if it is? I’m not talking about the low level happy pursuits that bounce in and out and don’t linger. But that hum where the real stuff is, that rushing current underneath, the one that’s quiet but real.

I’m not really sure where I’m going with this today except to say that this season always brings out the urge to slow it down. Hot afternoons and late daylight and no pressing schedules or school night routines. I’m vowing now to remember the who before the what, the being before the doing. And I guess most of all, just allow myself to follow the gladness and let that guide me. As Rilke says, “Let life happen to you. Believe me; life is in the right, always.”

truth

It is early morning as I type this. I have a full day of grading essays ahead of me, but I give final exams in the next week, and my academic year is winding down. This is the storm before the calm. I am almost there.

The rose bush in my backyard has been covered in buds for weeks it seems, but yesterday I finally saw three blooms bust wide open, and this morning it is covered in bright pink flowers. It’s strange how something as predictable and certain as the change of seasons can be so exciting.

There are certain truths in life – like that winter will become spring every single year without fail – that we tend to forget or ignore or somehow doubt. I feel like this message is chasing me lately. Does that happen to you, too? It’s like everything that I am reading or hearing or thinking is revolving around some center point whispering to be heard and then shouting a little louder until I pay attention to it.

Today’s culture values individual perspectives and stories, and I’m grateful for that. It’s important, and it’s the first step to empathy. But maybe what we lose in the process is the notion of absolute truth. There is the truth and there is my truth and there is your truth. None of those are exactly the same thing, but the absolute truth is the bedrock where you have to begin. We even have a term for this now when someone says truth-bomb. As though that real truth, that uncomfortable thing we try to ignore, is explosive.

I was listening to a podcast recently where someone was talking about this, and she said truth is like a reporter – just the facts, ma’am. The rest of it is stories that we pile on which can have some value but can also be full of false notions sometimes. I love gray area. I love the questions it brings and the changes it can inspire in me. But I lived in that space for so long that I am ready for solid ground, and maybe this truth concept is at the center of that.

I haven’t read any of Augusten Burroughs’ work. (Tell me where to begin if you have!) But I ran across a passage of his on Instagram, and it blew me away. He says, “Nothing you build on inaccuracy or mere hope or longing or lies or laws that oppose the nature of things can endure.” That is a statement of fact. How many times in our lives do we do this? We can build something on inaccuracy, and it can chug along for awhile, but it cannot endure. This is why people can drive expensive cars and file for bankruptcy soon after. Why you get shocking news of someone’s divorce when they appeared to be happy only a few months ago. Why friendships don’t stand the test of time when you don’t have all that much in common to begin with. It is why someone with a beautiful social media feed is often pretty unhappy in reality. The gig is always up eventually. That is not a truth we can change. It’s a universal law.

He also explains, “Whenever I have encountered a block or an issue in my own life it’s because somewhere, hidden in my life, is an inaccuracy and I have to find it. There’s an inaccuracy of the marriage, of the life I’ve built…being a little bit dishonest here and there created a disaster. When I think about all the times I’ve screwed up it was because there was a lie somewhere in my life.” That’s a pretty sobering thought. These lies are not always things that we tell others; in fact, I’d say it’s more likely that they are things we tell ourselves.

I tell my students that writing is like an excavation. You have to chip away at all the layers sometimes until you get to what you really think, what you really want to say. That’s where you strike gold.

Truth is the same way. It is not as subjective as our culture likes to think it is. If someone shows you who they are, you can add a thousand stories to it to explain it away, but what is the truth? Just the facts ma’am. What do their actions show you about who they are? That is the simple truth. If you have patterns in your life that keep reintroducing themselves again and again. What are you doing to create it? One long look in the mirror and all the hard questions. That’s where the excavation starts.

This is hard stuff, but the other side of that coin is that there are some beautiful truths that we can’t deny either.

What I know is true ……

That good things come to those who work hard.

That the life you create is made of a million tiny moments, the things you do every single day.

That patience is a virtue and you will always get better results when you respect the hands of time and withstand the urge to chase something shiny and temporary

That gratitude multiplies on itself and brings you abundance

That lasting happiness is built of your own hands inside of your own self

 

I think what I know to be true above everything else is that life always gives you what you want. Always. Not like some genie in a bottle delivering us our wishes on command. But what you pay attention to grows and grows. Maybe where we go wrong is that, with all of the other layers we throw on top of it, we lose that pulse of what we really desire, and we want something else instead. Then that thing comes true and we are left with unhappiness anyhow because we chased the wrong thing.

These are hard questions. But where you find the inaccuracies is also where you can follow that path to the truth. You find it, you ask for it, you work for it, and it will come to be. This I know is true. As sure as the earth travels around the sun, as sure as the seasons pass, what you desire will come to you. The challenge is to want the right things.

 

 

 

one long look in the mirror

Yesterday I turned 37. We celebrated pretty simply with sushi the night before, and I indulged in a facial while the kids were at school yesterday. We played a bit in the afternoon, and then they went to dad’s for the weekend, so now I’m in a quiet house and looking at a weekend that unfolds a lot a work I need to get done. This season of life is ever-busy it seems. I paused it all yesterday for a day of indulgence, but that means I have to somehow pick up the slack today.

I was talking with a friend a couple of weeks ago about the concept of aging. We went to high school together, so we are approaching 40 at the same pace, and she said, “Isn’t this age the best? I love getting older.” I think there would have been a time when I was surprised to hear myself say this, but I feel the same way. It continually brings me closer to some center that gets a little more solid every year.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the notion of self-accountability lately, the ways I am good at it and the ways that I need to get better. There are countless floating pieces of that equation: boundaries, discipline, honesty, delayed gratification, perspective, drive, and self-respect.

I recently revisited that famous Joan Didion essay on self-respect published in Vogue in 1961. (First of all, wrap your head around that. That this essay appeared in a widely read fashion magazine years ago in America. Culture has changed a lot in fifty years.)  She tells us, “In brief, people with self-respect exhibit a certain toughness, a kind of moral nerve; they display what was once called character, a quality which, although approved in the abstract, sometimes loses ground to other, more instantly negotiable virtues.” If that seemed true in 1961 – that character can lose ground to what is more “instantly negotiable” –  just think a minute about how much more true that is today in 2018. When instant is the name of the game every single day.

Didion continues, “Self-respect is something that our grandparents, whether or not they had it, knew all about. They had instilled in them, young, a certain discipline, the sense that one lives by doing things one does not particularly want to do, by putting fears and doubts to one side, by weighing immediate comforts against the possibility of larger, even intangible, comforts.” Weighing immediate comforts against the possibility of larger, even intangible, comforts is something I need to write a hundred times to imprint it on my perspective. Not just in my own life where I can constantly use some encouragement to keep my eyes on the long game. But also in terms of the comparison trap that 2018 living drops upon us. Immediate comforts are glorified everywhere — on our social media feeds, in glossy magazines, in storefront windows. Everywhere.

Self-respect runs out the door when you can’t see past the immediate. That is a harsh reality that finally, at 37 years along after some painful life lessons, I can see so clearly.

Maybe it is the changing air of spring that is opening up for us in small ways here already, maybe it is the newness of my 37th year, or maybe it is that after 3 years of survival mode living, I am finally getting to the real living part. Whatever the reason, I woke up two weekends ago, and I’d been looking at a room full of furniture that I didn’t choose, couches left from another life, for 3 years now with that tiny urge to wipe it clean. And I’d been ignoring that tiny urge or telling myself that I didn’t have the resources to change it – for 3 years now. More than one thousand days. But something clicked inside of me, and I could not look at it for one more day. Not once. I listed it that morning on a local sale site, and by 5pm someone had come to pick it up, and I went to bed that night with an empty room.

I had to do this on a dime, but I didn’t care. I got a new couch for cheap, a discount rug, and I moved a couple of chairs from elsewhere in the house. I spent that weekend scouring antique stores and found a little table and lamp I loved, and just a couple of days ago, I bought another used table for $28, and somehow we have all that all we need.

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I think when your outsides don’t match your insides, that incongruity can eat you up until it is unbearable. And this can work both ways – with an impeccable home and a stellar social media presence when the insides of that life are a mess. Or maybe, as it was in my case, you have come so far in the last few years, and then you suddenly wake up one day to open your eyes to some element of your life that doesn’t look like you at all. Stuff is more than stuff. It can cover up a lack of character and be used as armor sometimes. And likewise it can carry a heavy energy that just doesn’t belong with you anymore. I rid myself of all of it this month, and I feel like a two-ton elephant left my life.

Last weekend was sunny and 70, and I spent the afternoon in my backyard removing dead leaves and old stems from my flower beds, working pre-emergent in the dirt to ready things for the growing season come May. By the time I finished, my arms were sore from raking and digging. I swept the porch. I cleaned the front door. I left the windows open all day with the ceiling fan on and sunlight streaming through the house. Self-respect takes courage and elbow grease — whether that is selling something you don’t love anymore without a bundle of money to replace it yet, washing the winter’s dirty residue from your front door, taking an honest look at yourself and improving whatever makes you wince, or digging through overgrown flower beds.

Didion’s most famous line from that essay states, “character—the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life—is the source from which self-respect springs.”

It can take a long time to accept full responsibility in every way. 37 years for me, I think. You eventually learn that you own all of your assets and all of your capabilities but all of your incompletions and your mess-ups, too. It is all only mine to reckon with. Aging, if you are doing it right, is one long look in the mirror. It is honesty and backbone —  and eventually it is hard-earned self-respect.

wanting

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I ran across a meme the other day that said January was a tough year, but we made it. Amen and Amen. 45 days until spring. We can do this.

I’m typing this as I sit alongside a sleeping and feverish Norah. It’s been nothing short of a miracle that I’ve got a kindergartner who hasn’t really been noticeably sick all school year, so we were due for it. Kids around us have been dropping like flies to fevers and flu, so I guess it’s our turn now. I’m grateful it’s Saturday and I’ve got no classes to teach or meetings to rearrange, and we can just stay in until it passes. Or at least until Monday when I do the usual juggle to create a new schedule.

It’s hard to keep the line open to something greater and bigger when you are in the thick of daily tasks and interruptions like this. But somehow it magnifies the bigger things, too.  I think it’s Fitzgerald who has that famous line Things are sweeter when they are lost. And it is true.

You crave summer’s heat when you have the February doldrums. You crave wellness only when you are sick. I crave solitude most when I have a string of days without it. It’s always what we can’t have that we want most.

I know with certainty that the world works with a push-pull of opposites. Everything works this way. And it is such an ancient, unoriginal idea that I feel disingenuous even typing it here. But yet it’s hard to sink into. Maybe that’s the struggle of being human. But it is far worse in modern times, I think. Everything happens with such speed that we forget that the very best things in life are made even better because of times we didn’t have them.  This is true with big things and little things, too.

I heard a yoga teacher say recently that an acorn can become an oak tree, and an oak tree can become a piano. But an acorn cannot be transformed into the piano without whatever comes in between. It’s such a simple illustration, but it sort of unzipped my brain a bit, and I’m replaying it again and again in my head since I’ve heard it. We so often want to arrive somewhere and skip the middle. But what if I’m gaining the whole of what I need for my final destination right now?

I yearn for a lot of things big and small. I want warmth and sunshine. I want a house without the heavy interruption of sickness and feverish kids. I want a working dishwasher (waiting weeks on that delivery makes it sweeter for sure).

I want lasting purpose and drive and ambition without the ebbs and flows of life’s interruptions. I want finished projects held in my hands. I want security and sustained joy.

I used to be afraid to admit to what I want, but I think what we want says so much about us. And maybe the clarity that we find in the act of wanting itself is what gets us where we need to be.

 

on the daily

The kids are snoozing soundly, and I can hear their stuffy snores as I type this. I haven’t done this in forever – writing aimlessly just because I feel like it.

I’ve been listening to this incredible book of essays on my way to and from work lately. I laugh out loud and tear up and just generally get reminded everyday why I love words so much and why I love home so much, too.

I have a lot of thoughts tumbling and nowhere to put them. Because I’ve been spending my writing hours lately exploring things that have long passed, I tend to pay less attention to what is happening here and now – which has always been the aim of this space, to just record events as they happen and my feelings about them as those feelings pass through. I miss that. But there are only so many hours in the day, only so many stores of creative energy to use. As a result though, I tend to find myself surprised when an emotion sneaks up on me these days. I think writing is my mindfulness practice in ways I didn’t realize until my pace has slowed down with this journal.

One thing I’ve been pretty dedicated to lately is a daily yoga practice. I use the early morning hours to make this happen, and if you’d told me years ago that I’d be up at 5am rolling out my yoga mat while my kids slept – every single day – I wouldn’t have believed you. And I’m realistic enough to know that this is not a permanent thing that will happen for me 365 days a year forever after. But for now, it is floating me through the coldest and darkest days of the year which is something.

It ignites certain muscles, I’m finding. It’s an odd feeling — to be sore somewhere you didn’t realize you even had a muscle. How can I live in this body and be surprised at how it works like this? But it feels so good for me to turn that energy on as I begin my day. It somehow makes me feel like my spinning pieces are going somewhere, like there is a place here in the center pushing it all forward and welcoming it back home at the end of the day. It makes the rest of the world matter a little less.

I’ve practiced more intensely than this once or twice a week and not experienced nearly the benefit I’m getting now with a daily ritual. It is this way with absolutely everything in life, I’ve found. The daily rhythm matters. There is no replacement for it. Want to be a better cook? Do it everyday. Want to be in better shape? Move your body everyday. Want to be a better writer? Write everyday. Want to know someone better? Connect with that person everyday. All of life rests in what happens repeatedly, not what we do once in a while when we feel like it. That is a hard thing to swallow sometimes when it’s not always easy to do these things, but that is the truth.

My kids’ father is traveling across the ocean with his current wife this week. They land this weekend to spend it with the kids and then fly out again somewhere else a few days later. As always, I am here with the regular, predictable rhythm.

They call the kids every evening with the daily report of sights seen and presents purchased. I hear the chatter as they explain these things to the kids, and I wonder if this ever stops being strange. I stir dinner on the stove and unpack the backpacks and wash the clothes, and the ocean between us feels more like a universe because I just cannot imagine any other daily life than this one. Sunrise at the bus stop, school days ticking by, dinner at a table for three, and warm bedtime stories before we do it all again the next day.

Travel can bring all kinds of exciting things, and home (especially in the dead of winter) is not always so exciting to say the least. But I’ve been doing so much reading and writing lately about this place I call home, so much reflecting on the stories that float to the surface of my 36 years on this spinning planet, and I think maybe home doesn’t get enough credit for discovery either. I drive the same winding roads everyday to and from work. We lean on the same schedule everyday before and after school. It’s hard not to feel restless sometimes, but that’s the thing about home. You cannot run when you are here. My roots are deep enough in this place that I’ve come to see what self-accountability means. And at the end of the day, life is only made of what you use to create it with your own two hands.

As I stirred the soup tonight waiting for us in the slow cooker, I called my grandad to check in on him and on another family member. I could hear clucking in the background, and he explained he was “fastenin’ up the chickens” as he does every night at the same time. He is from a time that doesn’t seem to exist anymore – one when accountability and honesty were the measure of a man and consistency was paramount. Sometimes it feels like in all the beautiful, wide open possibility of what we see before us in the 21st century, we have lost that touchstone somehow. Jude loves pinto beans, and now that my grandad knows that, he’s asking when we can come for dinner so that he can make them for him. (He was never the cook in the family, but in my grandmother’s absence, he’s somehow absorbed her insistence on feeding legions of people and memorizing our food preferences and sending us out the door with arms full of food… It is hilarious and another post for another day.)

It made me smile to think of every bit of this. The daily task of “fastening the chickens” and gathering the eggs. The way he predicts the weather more accurately than any meteorologist just by the cumulative wisdom of a lifetime of paying attention. The generous offer to feed a growing boy with what he loves and a nod to the days when beans cooked all day were served in a single bowl with homemade bread in a skillet and that alone was called dinner (still works for us).

It is the simplicity of what happens every single day that illuminates the core of your character and offers a rhythm for your life. I need to remember this among the early wake-ups and the packed lunch boxes and the evening rituals. Home is here for you when you need it, but it only blooms when you plant it. You have to tend a garden to watch it grow.