magic shield

As you can see, I gave this space a much-needed face-lift this week. As it turns out though I had hardly noticed, this blog had looked the exact same since something like summer of 2011. My life changed a million times over as did the content in this space, but I hadn’t taken the time to update the aesthetics. It began to feel itchy and stifling, and a few changes brought me some fresh air, I think. It’s weird how we can keep things the same in our lives long after their time has passed. You forget to pay attention to the details, and then one day you wake up and see that it just doesn’t fit anymore. Change is good. I’ve also added a FAQ page at the top with a few questions that I get often from readers. While I still love hearing from some of you, I figured it was easier to put the commonly asked topics in one easy space.

It is still hot, hot, hot outside. Even for Georgia. We usually don’t wave a solid goodbye to summer until early October, but we also normally get a little tease of fall by now. The temperatures are hovering in the mid-eighties this year though, without even one day’s break from it. I am ready for new. The car thermometer read 94 yesterday, and we went swimming for a bit after school. The pool has lost its charm to me by now though. I’m ready to see leaves change and cycles begin again.

I’m clutching hard to little things to help me move through the weeks these days. Motivation is in short supply over here. This week, it was Malbec after dinner, mid-morning lattes at my work desk, Costco take-and-bake pizza, and bathtub crayons. Sometimes you just have to get it where you can find it and try to squeeze out every last drop until a new breeze gets here.

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Energy is hard to come by in the end of a season, isn’t it? Nature works in seasons so that cycles can happen again and again. Death and quiet and stillness and new life and fullness, too. Life is that way when you let it happen, I’m finding. Everything else in the world exists in seasons and rhythms, and it’s completely okay that I do as well – more than okay actually. It’s necessary. But when you feel like you want to move forward, but it’s just not quite happening yet, it’s hard. I just want to lay in bed with covers pulled tight until the new arrives. I have to just wait it out and let it pass. It’s time for this season to move on, time to turn a page. I’ve got work to do.

I’ve been listening this week to Rob Bell’s latest podcast series, and it is SO good. He’s delving into the wisdom tradition, and I’m finding so many morsels I needed to hear right now. I’ve worked so hard in the year that has passed – stillness even when it hurt, honesty even when it was hard, reading and writing and yoga and time alone and more writing. All of these things have pushed me out of what is comfortable and burned away what needed to fade in my own heart, but now I am finding another challenge, another place where a different kind of work begins. Here’s the shitty part about doing all of this self-growth and hard change: the world around you doesn’t always reflect your own growth, does it? There are obstacles you have to break through and confines you need to somehow break out of, and it is hard because while you can steer the ship on your own change and growth, you can’t keep other outside challenges on that same track. It sometimes feels like starting over even though I feel so different from the inside out.

In the episode I listened to yesterday, Bell explained “When you come to see that you are the steward of your energies, you begin to become much more aware of what you don’t involve yourself in. … That thing you know you should do, that’s generally how it starts. You just get a step, not much. You get enough shape, contour, and texture to know what direction to leap in.”  I have an idea brewing and a shape and a contour, but I have nothing else. Just a little nudge. That is hard enough, but then I also feel the weight of conflict and distractions pulling me when I want to ignore them. I knew that you always transfer pain to someone else if you don’t tackle it head-on, and I don’t feel that pain in the same way I did a year ago because of my own honesty with it before. But when people don’t face that pain and become harder and harder and transfer it to you, then what do you do? I’m asking this as a genuine question. What works as a deflector shield for that? What I am left with now that I have dealt with my own mess is how to avoid absorbing others’ when it’s been left festering.

In the same podcast, Rob Bell gave a warning about using our energies on the wrong things and how that impedes your vision and your work. “What you get worked up over is a reflection of how you understand your sacred, God-given, holy, precious energies. What you give your energy to is a reflection of how you understand your worth and power and energy. This isn’t about ego. It’s about engagement.” Pushing the ego aside, knowing that someone else’s bitterness is not your problem and no reflection on you, it sounds so easy in theory, but it is hard in daily practice. My worldview might be vastly different from someone else’s, and how do I bridge that gap? It’s a constant challenge for me in this season.

This is the thing humans refuse to see and accept somehow. When you run from your pain or your problems and pretend they are not there, it grows and grows until it hardens, and the thicket it creates poisons everything around it. When I am safe in my own bubble – my own home and my own kids and my own friends and family – I feel soft and light and real. But sometimes the world outside feels hard, and I guess that’s the truth of the matter that we have to contend with.

I’m working to find that magic shield if it exists, that magic formula that pushes it away instead of absorbs it. Until then, I’m holding fast to the little things – bathtub crayons or dinners with friends or quiet mornings in bed focused on my own work and my own spark. I’ve come this far, and I’m not stopping now. The shine is too stubborn and the promise too bright.

spinning wheels

I’m writing a little less often in this space as we get busy with the school year, and I have a lot of irons in the fire right now, so to speak. It’s not an intentional break from this blog, but I’m working on a creative endeavor that I’m really excited to tell you about. (It’s not quite ready yet… hopefully by the end of the year!) A new project means that I am pulled in a few different directions right now, so it’s difficult to stay focused on this space for long when I am putting effort elsewhere.

I feel lucky that I’ve connected with a lot of new readers in the last year, but it also gives me occasional stage fright when I have nothing monumental to write about. Just life, just us. Both old and boring but also new and scary as ever. Now I have a few thousand viewers instead of a few hundred, and life doesn’t always feel monumental enough to pass on to others. But much of the value in this journal is to record pieces of my own weeks so that I remember they ever happened when life turns a page to something else and the past feels distant. So here I am.

When things I don’t need start to creep in and take up space in my mind, I have to make a diligent effort to move my focus to what’s important. Me, my children, my family, my own boundaries, my hopes, and my creative life. That’s all I can handle on my plate right now. Distractions scream so loudly though. How do you do it? What are your tricks for staying focused on the few things you most want instead of running the hamster wheel all around us? I feel a little like a hamster wheel right now.

I’m deliberately pausing today though. It’s Labor Day, and I have been perfectly lazy for most of it. The kids left yesterday for a night with their dad, and I had dinner with friends last night — the long kind where you linger for hours and talk about light things and heavy things and all the stuff in between. I’m prepping for a busy week ahead by resting now, something I’ve learned is every bit as necessary as hard work, but we tend to forget that.

I picked up some varieties of kale and cauliflower from my grandad yesterday, and the kids and I will plant them in our containers on the patio when they get home. A change of seasons is coming, and I’m ready for it. I’m trying to pause here though, for just a little while. Reset my goals and expectations and be realistic with myself. What is most important to me in this season? Where am I headed and how do I get there? Questions that get lost in the busyness of life and need to be asked and refreshed again and again.

We’ve tried to enjoy the last few days of summer with a lot of time outside. The pool is losing its novelty, but nature never does for my two. They’ve chased butterflies and counted caterpillars, and Jude got a tiny lizard last weekend that he tended carefully like a pet for a few hours before releasing him again.

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The best moments are always the little ones in between, the ones that are impossible to orchestrate. Creating space for that is key, I think. I’m trying to slow down at home as life outside the house picks up its pace with soccer practice and reading homework and paper grading. I’m fighting the temptation to stay on the spinning wheel. Slow and steady always wins the race.

 

beauty chaser

Our weekend was busy with celebration. My younger brother got married at a north Georgia winery, and as Norah and I drove over on Friday afternoon after school, I was reminded of how much I love my home state, even in the sweltering heat of August.

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North Georgia is so beautiful, and I never tire of it. Rolling hills as far as you can see and pines everywhere. I feel lucky to live where I do and have a web of family spread across a landscape that I love so much. I know the south has its quirks and limitations, but it is home like no other place on earth for me. Beauty everywhere.
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The rehearsal dinner was at a historic restaurant in a tiny town and featured fried chicken and mashed potatoes and squash casserole. The next day was full and busy with wedding prep. Both kids were part of the ceremony, and it’s sweet to see them dressed up and feeling special for occasions like this. As usual, Norah was ecstatic and energetic about her role in front of a crowd, and Jude was more reserved.

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There was a time in my life when I went to a wedding every month, I think. But it’s been a while, and as I reach my mid-thirties, these are fewer and farther between. I forget about all the preparation and excitement and jitters and tiny details. It was fun to be reminded of what it feels like to plan for such a special day.
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The kids didn’t have a clue, of course, about the tiny choices like flowers and music and bridesmaids dresses and the million worries that go into planning an occasion like this. But they did feed on the excitement which was fun to watch.

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I couldn’t get enough of my tiny groomsman. Little girls love to dress up any chance they get, so it’s no shock to see Norah running around the house in a dress for no reason at all lately. But to see Jude in a suit with a boutonniere pinned on? Slay me.
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After the ceremony, the crowd moved to the tasting area of the winery to eat and drink and talk as we watched the sun go down over the mountains. Norah danced and twirled with her cousins and stayed up way past her bedtime.

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The bride lost her grandmother just a few weeks ago, soon after my grandmother passed. There was a moment of silence for the two of them at the beginning of the ceremony, and the absence was tangible. We felt it. It is still so incredibly fresh and, in a weird way, it is actually becoming more painful these past couple of weeks. Like a wound that gets worse before it gets better. The surreal feelings wear off along with the high of the funeral and the million visitors and condolences. And then you are left with the reality that the person you loved just isn’t there anymore. It’s the weirdest thing, isn’t it? That this is how life works. That we lose people we can’t imagine living without and life just keeps happening anyway.

I’ve been revisiting Rilke a bit again lately, and in one poem, he explains “God speaks to each of us as he makes us, then walks us silently out of the night …Let everything happen to you, beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.” It’s such a comfort to know that no feeling is final, to know that everything passes eventually.

This last two years of my life have felt like beauty and terror again and again, sometimes in the same moment. I’ve become a beauty chaser, I think. Look for it, find it, squeeze it for what it’s worth. Squeeze out every last drop you can get. It’s there in the tiniest spaces when we are open to it.

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It felt good to celebrate that this weekend. I know that beauty lies all around us all the time, but on some days, it’s easier to see than on other days.

stephen wedding

You just have to wait out the rest of it sometimes, don’t you? I think it’s also Rilke who says, “Don’t be frightened, dear friend, if a sadness confronts you larger than any you have ever known, casting its shadow over all you do. You must think that something is happening within you, and remember that life has not forgotten you; it holds you in its hand and will not let you fall.”

Life never forgets us, and I know this. You just have to trust and wait and let it go on and on and on to whatever comes next.

 

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creating, sustaining, transforming

I’ve been home for six days now, yet I’ve hardly caught my breath. I’m grateful I have summers off to spend time with the kids, but it always takes me by surprise how quickly our days go. Neighbors have been in and out all week, water hoses and bathing suits in the backyard, a puppet show Thursday, and lake time yesterday. It’s always something.

Last Sunday afternoon had me driving home through the Carolinas. Billboards advertising fresh peaches were taunting me the whole way, but the farm stands weren’t open on Sundays. I listened to podcasts – this one and this one were especially great – and thought a lot about my experience at the retreat center and the ways I could take it home with me.

We talked a lot about prana and the power of breath to direct your energy. I spent just as much time learning pranayama techniques as I did doing yoga, and I left feeling ten times lighter than when I came. The food was vegan and Ayurvedic which I don’t think is feasible for me on a regular basis certainly, but as a cleanse, it was really effective.

Yoga poses were called in Sanskrit which threw me off at first. They’d call Bhujangasana, and I’d feel confused until I realized it was just cobra. Or Utkatasana when it’s just the same chair pose I’ve always known. I’ll never tire of learning something new though. There’s so much to be said for unplugging from everything you know and going alone to learn something you didn’t know before.

Saturday night, there was a Kirtan (the Indian tradition of call-and-response Sanskrit music) held near the main ashram. I was on the fence about going as the tradition seemed so foreign to me, but a couple of the people in my group decided we’d go together and see what it was.

I wish I could accurately describe what that room was like, but I will never be able to capture that in words. I sat on the floor for an hour listening to Sanskrit chants with a hundred other people, and I have no idea what they were saying, but I could feel it. Songs about sadness and about yearning and about joy. It’s all the same, isn’t it? Every human culture and tradition around the world is encountering the same thing – joy and heartbreak and all the stuff in between. About halfway through the Kirtan, the soloist broke from Sanskrit and began singing “Amazing Grace.” The entire room – mostly Indians who knew Sanskrit well and a few others like myself who didn’t – began to sing along. It was community magnified.

And it was my grandmother’s favorite hymn. One I cried through while a southern baptist choir sang it at her funeral three days prior.

Some people might roll their eyes while reading this and say I am too much of a mystic. That it was only a coincidence. But it was in that second that I saw so clearly that the people we love never really leave us. They show up again and again and even in the places we least expect it. When I think about that moment for a minute, really think about it, it astounds me. How did I get there? At that second? Think of all the experiences in my life – big and little – that had me driving alone through the mountains to find my way to this specific place in this specific moment as I sat on the floor and listened through tears to this specific song. Life is incredible.

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In the first class, we talked a lot about the “om” chant that opens most yoga classes. I’ve said it before, many times, and I knew that it referenced the soul and the entirety of the universe and how they connect. But we discussed how it is really a blend of three sounds when done as intended – ah, oh, and mmm. As you do those slowly, my instructor explained, you can feel them moving through you to vibrate different parts of you. The ah in your belly, the oh in your chest, and the hum at the end in your head. The belly, he explained is the place of creating life (womb); the chest the place of sustaining life (breath); and the head the place of transforming life (thoughts).

He said everything in the world is either being created, sustained, or transformed. But here’s the thing I’m seeing — sometimes it is hard to tell the difference. I will think I am in sustaining mode (breathe in, breathe out, one foot in front of the other, pay the bills, do the laundry, just keep swimming), and I will look back and see that I was actually transforming the whole time.

I thought I was done transforming for a little while, done creating something new. I was ready to coast with a little more ease. But my grandmother’s passing was a clear sign that I’m not done yet. Sometimes I feel tired, but when I remain open to these gifts as they fall, even in the hard season, they somehow feel sweeter than before.

My daily meditations from Richard Rohr struck a chord again yesterday, and I had to pass it along:

“…We often remain trapped in what we call normalcy–‘the way things are.’ Life then revolves around problem-solving, fixing, explaining, and taking sides with winners and losers. It can be a pretty circular and even nonsensical existence.
 
To get out of this unending cycle, we have to allow ourselves to be drawn into sacred space, into liminality. All transformation takes place here. We have to allow ourselves to be drawn out of “business as usual” and remain patiently on the “threshold” (limen, in Latin) where we are betwixt and between the familiar and the completely unknown. There alone is our old world left behind, while we are not yet sure of the new existence. That’s a good space where genuine newness can begin. Get there often and stay as long as you can by whatever means possible. It’s the realm where God can best get at us because our false certitudes are finally out of the way. This is the sacred space where the old world is able to fall apart, and a bigger world is revealed. If we don’t encounter liminal space in our lives, we start idealizing normalcy. The threshold is God’s waiting room. Here we are taught openness and patience as we come to expect an appointment with the divine Doctor.
 
A good therapist and a good minister will always open up larger vistas for you, which are by definition risky, instead of just ‘rearranging the deck chairs’ on a sinking Titanic.”

I’ve been itchy this past few months, wondering if it’s “okay” that I am still in a space of in-between. (Who says what is okay anyway? Why do we think in those terms?) I’m trying to forget old ideas of “idealizing normalcy” as Rohr calls it. There is no normal. And as I look around me at the people who are the least genuine and the most hollow, I see a desperate quest for “normal” and for perfection. But the sinking Titanic is a heavy force, and it’s going down anyway – even with all the trappings of what you think is a life that somehow proves your worthiness.

Life is not a series of check boxes, and that is a concept that echoes back to the very beginning of this season for me as I wrote about before. Back then, I was consumed with the idea that someone I cared for saw me as unable to fill some imaginary list of “check boxes,” but now I see that looking at your entire life and all the people in it as a series of boxes to fill is so limiting and just setting you up for the sinking Titanic anyhow. You are just rearranging the chairs, but it’s still going down.

I have no boxes anymore, no shape. It’s morphing and changing all the time. The less I look to some definitive list of what life should be, the more it opens up for me in ways I never expected.

Between the whirlwind of the past few weeks, my stay away for a while, and the disheartening news events this week, I’ve been craving home and family. We packed up yesterday for a picnic and an afternoon at the lake.

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The kids tried their hardest to catch the minnows swimming beneath the surface and collected feathers and rocks along the shore. The simplest of rituals always work to bring us back home to ourselves, I think.

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I truly believe, with everything in me, that the world works in your favor when you ride along with the current. Creating, sustaining, transforming all the time.

body and soul

I can feel my life changing all the time as I grow and evolve and as my kids grow and change as well. We are sailing far past the baby and toddler days. I don’t monitor anyone’s bathroom habits much anymore. (Thank you Lord sweet baby Jesus. So glad that is over.) I don’t wake in the middle of the night unless there’s a nightmare or a sickness. I don’t keep extra clothes in my car for accidents. I don’t structure my days around nap time. There’s a lot of freedom that comes with this new era, and I’m finding that I’m relieved to see it arrive. It’s no secret that I loved my days with tiny babies, but it’s only magical because it’s a passing season. Now we are on to something new.

But the thing I didn’t foresee with this new chapter is the busy school schedule. School-aged kids always have something going on, it seems. This month alone brings two birthday parties, a field trip, a school-wide field day, a class breakfast, end-of-the-year teacher gifts, and a ballet recital. It’s always something.

I got Norah to her ballet dress rehearsal on Saturday, and the two of us took a moment to get her dressed in my office since it’s a few steps from the university theater where her performance was held. She was so sweet with her tiny tutu and tights that never quite fit without a few wrinkles at that age. She met her class backstage, and their excitement was tangible. You could see that each of them felt so special, but they also loved the camaraderie of their matching ensembles. It reminded me so much of my backstage ballet memories and friendships.

 

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She rehearsed her piece twice over, and I changed her again and brought her to her dad’s where she was staying this weekend. After that, I went to the gym and headed to the grocery store, and was generally feeling exhausted from the crazy pace of May and resigned to a night of take-out and pajamas on my couch as a result. My phone buzzed in the check-out line though, and a friend urged me to head out with a large group of us. I’d originally thought I needed to take a pass to focus on mom duties this weekend, but it didn’t take much nudging to change my mind, so when I got home, I threw the groceries in the fridge, changed clothes as fast as I could, and raced out to meet my carpool.

What is it about a group of strong women that makes us capable of getting straight to real talk right away? My friends have always been significant to me, but I think as I age and experience life, I get even better at recognizing kindred spirits. I’m grateful for all of them. It sometimes seems like the universe plops these people right in front of me, and maybe it does. But I know I am responsible for that, too. The energy you send out returns to you. If you focus on the right things in life, those ideas always rise to the top of whatever other noise there is, and you eventually find yourself surrounded by like-minded people.

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We ate and laughed for hours, and no topic was off limits for conversation. Someone decided we should head nearby to a basement dance club that plays old 90’s hip hop, and even those of us who swore we were only coming for dinner and were headed home by midnight (famous last words, right?) followed suit with a little convincing.

Is there anything better than the combination of girlfriends and laughing and dancing and music that brings nostalgia? I really don’t think there is. Dance is such a life force in the same way that yoga is for me. It feels like meditation in a different sense. There are so few experiences in life that force you to focus on exactly what is in front of you at that moment and nothing more. We spend so much time thinking about what our bodies look like in our day-to-day lives as society continually screams these messages at women particularly. What we forget to notice is what it feels like to be in your own body. Dance does that like nothing else can.

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I took it for granted, growing up inside the walls of a ballet studio, that my body would always feel that familiar to me. I spent at least five nights a week for well over a decade dancing with friends in one way or another. Life is different now, but sometimes you get the chance to do it all over again with a familiar soundtrack, and it fills you up in the best way. When I read Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection last summer, I noted a passage where she explains how her research reflected that dance is a necessary part of whole-hearted living; she claims that “laughter, song, and dance create emotional and spiritual connection; they remind us of the one thing that truly matters when we are searching for comfort, celebration, inspiration, or healing: We are not alone.” It’s those communal moments with different individuals moving to the same music that place you inside your own body in a way that is necessary and often forgotten but somehow also allow you to tap into something greater – that emotional and spiritual connection Brown speaks of.

I only got something like four hours of sleep before Norah’s show the next day, but it was all worth it. After dressing her and dropping her off backstage, I studied the program while I was seated in the theater and waiting. I noted when her dance was scheduled and was preparing myself for the usual happy-sad mom tears that come at moments like this. But I surprised myself that I didn’t shed a tear at all for her piece.

Instead, I choked back a swell of tears that caught me by surprise when the first piece in the program began. It was a modern ballet performed by dancers I do not know at all. But something about the combination of the choreography, the lights, and the swell of music softened me in that place where good art always resonates. That deep recognition “your bones recognize as if you’ve created it,” as Andrea Hollander says. That missing piece that connects you to something outside of yourself. We are body and soul – all of us. And dance in any form reminds me of that every time.

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Norah seemed to enjoy her time on stage, and I snapped a few pictures outside the theater. When we were home later last night, she asked if she could wear her costume the rest of the day, and I said yes. She played inside and lazed around on the couch in her lace and crinoline. And as I was making dinner, I looked out the patio doors to find her outside in the backyard twirling and twirling all by herself. The May sun was slanting a bit in that way it always does a couple hours before dark, and it would catch a glinting sequin every now and then. It felt so real and true to see her living in her own body and her own world without regard to anything else.

At the end of the day, as I turned off lights and headed upstairs to bed, I stopped to scribble a note for my gratitude jar like always. I was surprised as I reflected on the day that my best moment was not the big performance or the dressing room excitement or seeing her proud face with the flowers; it was the shimmering sunlight and the twirling dress and her quiet joy as she went round and round all by herself.

 

 

 

 

April Insanity

Weeks are passing by incredibly quickly lately. Work is on overdrive; I can’t even begin to explain how insane April feels for those of us in higher ed. We got home Friday afternoon, and my kids ran straight outside to play with neighbors and enjoy the late daylight. The season is a welcome change, but I’m finding that my energy level doesn’t match theirs lately. I feel tired and depleted while they are gaining momentum with the growing sunshine.

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Both of them are away for a few days at the end of this week, and I will miss them and feel on-edge about their being states away, but I need the time badly. The ability to work late without the afternoon shuffle and exhale a minute when I get home instead of the usual routine of packing lunches, making dinner, cleaning up, bathing kids, and bedtime cuddles. Thinking about their absence brings that old familiar tension of relishing the time alone but also dreading the distance and heavy silence in a house that is usually full and busy.

Life has been so busy lately that I haven’t been catching up with friends in the way I’d like. I squeezed in a birthday celebration three weeks after my actual birthday with friends who are worn and comfortable in the best way. There are six kids among us which means it almost takes an act of congress to convene us together these days, but we never forget to celebrate each other’s milestones and successes, something I’m incredibly grateful for.

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People are not always good at recognizing someone else’s achievements, and I think that’s rooted in the idea of comparison and scarcity. If you land a good job, that means there is not enough for me. If you move into a gorgeous new home, mine is somehow less. If you are finding happiness in a new relationship, that somehow means I’m eternally single. I’m grateful that, as I’ve aged and refined my priorities a bit, the friendships that remain for me are those where we can celebrate one another’s successes and be honest and solid in the face of each other’s challenges as well.

I wrote about this a bit last summer when I talked about compassion and bodhichitta, but the events of my past few years have really worked as a filter to mine the gems of true friendship in my life. It’s been interesting to see that the same women who never forgot me and offered real support when I was in the trenches of the hardest moments are also the women who find genuine joy in the good things as my life mends itself on the other side. It makes me see my own self in a different light and strive to offer the same to those I love.

Our conversations have changed a lot in the last 9 years – from work troubles to questions about pregnancy to frustrations about nursing babies and lack of sleep and now to kindergarten curriculum and that strange aching gratitude you feel watching kids grow independent. You never know what life holds, but it is such a relief to me that though I don’t have that box to check anymore — no legally recognized next-of-kin, the absence of “my person” as I’ve spoken of it before — I have a handful of others who would step up in a heartbeat for any little thing. Or any big thing. I feel lucky that I got to rest in that for a bit this week with a marathon dinner and endless conversation.

There are so many other things I want to write about, ways that life is changing and opening up for me. I listen to ideas float in and out all day while I’m engaged in other tasks. But life intervenes, as it does for all of us. I’m hoping to commit more time to writing when the rush of April is done.

I have been writing a bit here and there though. An essay about motherhood and forgiveness and how those two intersect everyday is up over at the March issue of Mothers Always Write. And my latest on Huffington Post was just published this week as well. Read and share if you’d like. More soon.

Happy April, friends. Spring is here.

 

 

how the story ends

My university closes for Good Friday every year, so I’m off today. Norah is with my mom so that I can volunteer in Jude’s class this afternoon. I rolled out of bed later than usual, and I walked Jude to the bus stop this morning in jeans and a hoodie and came back to write a bit in a quiet house when I’d normally be commuting to work and planning for a full day. Space to breathe and sit in silence is so rare this time of year, but even little bits of time can create the opening I need to regain perspective.

Birds are busy outside as I type this, and I can hear them singing. The grass is greening up. April always feels like a swollen bud that’s about to bust wide open. I felt it so intensely last year as I moved into this new space, and I feel it now again.

Yesterday was Norah’s egg hunt at school. I slipped out of my office for a bit to join her.

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I noticed a few colleagues and university staff stepping out to the front steps to watch the madness. Dozens of kids running as fast as they can to gather what they find. It’s the simplest of ideas, and yet they get so excited.

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She dug right in and ate more candy than I should have agreed to, but indulgence and celebration can do so much to carry us through the mundane, so I gave her no limits. There’s more value in these indulgences the older I get. Life, responsibilities, worries, bills, chores, expectations – it all feels like a lot sometimes. But it fades to the background in these little moments of celebration.

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I clamored into work yesterday with 2 crates of strawberries I’d hurriedly bought on the way in. Norah’s class was having a picnic after the egg hunt, and I volunteered for that item. It was spring picture day as well, and my fervent scrubbing of her St. Patty’s Day tattoo didn’t remove it, so I had to ask her teacher to tilt her in the photo pose so as not to show her right arm. This week, I have also stuffed 96 Easter eggs for 3 different celebrations – each set with its own slightly different instructions. Like “add a few pennies to each egg for a math activity.” “No chocolate, please.” etc etc. Last week, Jude had to make a “leprechaun trap” as a “family project.” And there are at least three different forms sitting on my kitchen counter right now informing me of field day and fundraisers and field trips.

My coworker was laughing along with me yesterday as I unloaded my strawberries in the office kitchen to rinse and cut them for the picnic while lamenting over the everlasting tattoo featured on picture day. Her kids are grown, but she remembers this season and the thousand demands it brings. She dug up a passage from her office bookshelf with a copy of Jenny Offill’s Department of Speculation about the “rememberers” and the “non-rememberers.” I recall a time when I was a rememberer, always on time for everything. But lately I feel like a non-rememberer. A mom who throws supplies on the table as I make dinner so that my son can finish the “family project” assigned 6 days ago that is due tomorrow. My “family project” at the moment is keeping us alive and fed and reasonably happy. That is all I can manage.

I haven’t had much time for dreaming lately, for looking at the big picture or what is ahead. This is good in ways; it keeps me grounded in the present moment because I only have room in my mind for this minute and the next 72 hours or so. Beyond that, I cannot tell you much.

But I’m feeling a tension emerge in that way lately that I haven’t felt in a long time. I sometimes feel a huge opening and such immense gratitude for the open road in front of me. That sense of possibility I’ve written about here before. But I am also surprised, in some less steady moments, to find myself craving a sense of certainty. It’s human nature to do so, but I’ve grown so accustomed to the mystery in my past year that I always find myself surprised when the old discomfort of uncertainty creeps up again. Jenny Offill also says, “You think you want the blue skies, the open road, but really you want the tunnel, you want to know how the story ends.” I think that is true for each and every one of us. It’s human nature to want certainty. But I’ve made so much progress in the past year, become so comfortable with the not-knowing. Anytime I step into new territory though, it’s back again.

I picked up Things Fall Apart again this week to revisit some passages that brought me so much last summer when I read them for the first time. Chodron insists, “As human beings, not only do we seek resolution, but we also feel that we deserve resolution. However, not only do we not deserve resolution, we suffer from resolution. We don’t deserve resolution; we deserve something better than that. We deserve our birthright, which is the middle way, an open state of mind that can relax with paradox and ambiguity.”  She’s right. The middle way, the questions, have brought me so much. It’s staying in them after the bulk of the storm passes that is the hard part. To stay here, to be here in the truest way, to not get anxious or itchy or hurry for resolution. That is the difficult work at hand for me right now, but it’s where the magic happens. I don’t have to know how my story ends to know it’s a good one.

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Thanks for sharing your passages on my last post here and over on Facebook! The winning number was 9, so Melissa is our winner! Interestingly, she shared one of my favorite passages I encountered when reading Tiny Beautiful Things:It’s just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. You have to live through it and love it and move on and be better for it and run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by your own desire to heal.” Congrats, Melissa! And thanks for reading. I will message you soon to ship the gifts to you.

threshold

The forecast calls for springtime this week, and I turn 35 years old in three days. So much new lies ahead.

Jude’s school celebrated Read Across America last week with a theme each day. Friday was “Dress Like a Dr. Seuss Character Day,” so Thursday night had me painting a t-shirt to resemble Thing 2. (He specified that he preferred Thing 2 rather than Thing 1 for whatever reason.) I ordered a wig on Amazon, and I’m sure it will make a yearly appearance and be shared among both kids in the years to come as this seems to be a regular thing. I was on spring break last week, so we could take a leisurely walk to the bus stop that morning, and the sun was parting the clouds a bit. He was so happy to be doing something special. Routine is what keeps me sane, but little celebrations and moments where we reach beyond the ordinary can encourage and energize us so much, too.

DrSeuss Day! DrSeuss Day!

I’m a planner. I know this about myself, and I genuinely cannot remember a time when that wasn’t true. I’ve always been a forward-thinker, and motherhood has only multiplied that exponentially. I make a list every Sunday detailing what we will eat the entire week. I can look ahead on my calendar and tell you what I’m doing weeks from now. The minute one of the kids gets sick, I go into planning mode and think ahead to my week and when I can take off and when I can’t and start making plans to make the delicate balance of our lives make sense in the chaos.

As I’m typing this, I hear the hum of the dryer tumbling laundry, and I’m cooking a chicken in the pressure cooker. And in the back of my mind is the constant soundtrack of what else I need to do this afternoon. It’s always a tightrope I’m walking. Juggling balls in the air to accommodate a job and students and kids at home and the million little things like an oil change or a visit to the accountant at tax time or a follow-up email that is still waiting to be written or the kitchen floor that desperately needs mopping. It’s easy to sometimes worry that one little thing can knock it all down like dominoes. The dance has persistent potential for chaos.

I’m hoping to get better at a few things in my 35th year. And one of those is to allow myself to stop planning in those rare moments of rest, to turn off the “mom brain” and just let it come to me as it will. The little tasks have to be crossed off the list, but I’m hoping to make a conscious effort to bring mindfulness a little further into my daily life. Forward thinking has to happen to get by from week to week, but there is so much value in the here-and-now.

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Norah and I were playing around with my phone camera last week, and I was struck my how different we look and feel in those photos – when compared to how we looked and felt just a couple of short years ago. She is nothing like a toddler anymore. All pre-school kid. I’ve got some laugh lines that are creased a little deeper than they used to be. I’ve weathered a few storms in this season of my life and learned lessons I couldn’t have learned any other way. I’m watching the landscape of my face change as my heart gains folds and creases, too. But I’m okay with it. I’m okay with learning and growing and changing, and I wouldn’t turn back to 25 if given the chance. Today feels so much better than a decade ago, and I know myself in ways I certainly didn’t before. I’m on the threshold of something new, I think. And that’s how I want to feel forever and forever.

There’s a quote from the film version of Michael Cunningham’s The Hours that sets me on fire in the best way every time I hear it. One character is asking her own midlife questions and explains to her daughter, “I remember one morning getting up at dawn. There was such a sense of possibility. You know, that feeling. And I remember thinking to myself: So this is the beginning of happiness, this is where it starts. And of course there will always be more…It never occurred to me it wasn’t the beginning. It was happiness. It was the moment, right then.”

That thrill of possibility is it. That big empty page. And I don’t think you have to abandon that feeling when your life is more solid and contained within particular perimeters. We can always hold on to that. But now, at the dawn of my 35th year as I cross the threshold to the second half of this decade for me, I feel grateful for this season that reminds me so tangibly what it feels like to dwell in possibility. I have things to write that I haven’t written yet. Places to go that I’ve never been. I have feelings to feel that I haven’t felt yet. So much awaits.

right, left, right, left

Monday night I did my usual routine with the kids. Read a couple books, talk a bit, say our “blessings” as we call it, and relax a minute as they drift off. I normally let them drift to sleep and then head back downstairs for a little time on my own – practical things like cleaning the kitchen and packing lunches or necessary things like yoga or writing. But Monday I laid there with them a minute, noticed the clock said 8:20, and then woke up to see 1:40 staring back at me.

I’m not sure how I can feel so exhausted and heavy when I just had a weekend snowed in alone and 48 hours to reset. How does that happen? The energy reserves seem to drain faster than they refill in my life.

There is always something to do. Always. I got a reminder email about a kindergarten reading incentive chart that is due next week, and tonight I managed to look at our bookshelf and scribble in the titles of what we’ve read recently as Jude was bathing and Norah was brushing her teeth. It’s the tiniest thing, just a list of books. But all the little things make your life so crowded. There is always something.

Sometimes I want to know who these moms are with pristine homes and matching clothes and cars that aren’t littered with water bottles and food wrappers. Do they have less on their to-do list than I do? Probably not. But the older I get and the farther I get into parenthood, the less I even strive for that anymore.

My kids are clean! Their lunches are packed, and their bellies are full! We have a house where I can keep all the things we need! And we occasionally have fun! All of these things feel like accomplishments lately. I’m grateful for all of it.

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Right, left, right, left. Just keep walking. They look to me for these million things that have to get checked off the list as we engage in our daily lives. And sometimes that can feel like a thankless task, as any mom will tell you. But the daily grind is where it’s at. I think one day they will see that more clearly. And even now, it’s in between these million busy moments that you can steal seconds of insight. It’s easy to get tired of being the glue that holds together this delicate balance. The chauffeur, the chef, the maid, the tutor, the event planner. So many heavy roles we carry. But without all of these things, I’d have no front row seat to their lives and the million subtle ways they grow and change with every experience.

Now that my two are getting a little older, I think a lot about what they will remember about this time in our lives. I don’t know what they will recall, what they will associate with me and with these years. But I think we are seeing each other in the truest way, even among the busy daily demands. They see me for what I really am and give me space to grow into something else. And I strive to do the same for them in return.

The hump is over, and we are completely in a new normal. Our rhythm feels worn and comfortable, even among the chaos.

 

 

breath inside

This was one of those work weeks that somehow felt so much longer than only 5 days. Little stresses here and there that add up to so much, and I was always dashing from one thing to another – both literally and mentally as well. It’s hard to just be still with yourself in those times. It takes a lot of effort on my part, effort to stop frantically moving from one task to another and just slow down.

I’m listening to the latest album by The Oh Hellos lately. There’s a lyric in one song (click here for a listen) that cuts me softly every time I hear it: I’ve learned a lot about the way of things. I learned that everything has breath inside. I forget I have breath inside sometimes and that everything else does to. I forget the power of breath. Yoga and meditation are so good to remind us of this, but outside of those experiences, I forget to listen to my own current. That steady reminder of life’s continuity.

I’ve changed so much in the past year – the past few months even – that it seems strange at times to think that it is the same beating heart in my chest, the same breath moving in and out. Same as it ever was, only maybe not. Because I feel it differently now than I did before. I feel everything differently.

The kids and I spent time today at my grandparents’ place which I’ve written about often as it’s so central to my own memories and my own identity. It feels good to come home to these associations, like the breath inside I mentioned before. A continuity that steadies you. This week was stressful, and yesterday was bitterly cold and rainy. But today we stood in the familiar and the sun made up for yesterday’s chill. Winter sunshine feels like such a gift. We collected eggs from the hens and walked what is left of the fall garden. Jude munched on raw kale that he’d surely push aside if offered on his plate, but somehow it felt like a treat when he plucked it himself.

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In the song that initially got me hooked on The Oh Hellos, they echo Hello my old heart, how have you been? Are you still there inside my chest? I’ve been so worried. You’ve been so still. Barely beating at all. I remember the first time I heard it when it appeared on my Pandora station last summer as I painted a room in the house soon after we moved in. It was late and the kids were sleeping, and I was working to bring something of my own to a place that felt new and foreign. The lyric resonated enough with me in that moment that I teared up a little.

We’ve all felt like that at times, I think. Like you’ve ignored your own voice and you have to press an ear to your own soul and listen hard to see what’s there. It’s easy to listen to the clamor of what’s outside and ignore that whisper that is only heard in stillness.

It’s coming back to me, my old heart. It’s changed shapes in many ways, but I finally feel it beating as it was before. Like that same breath that moves in and out. Those long-forgotten but familiar spaces are coming back. It happens in bits and pieces, but it feels so needed, like winter sun.

I ran across a Facebook post yesterday that featured one of my favorite Rumi passages I’ve quoted before. Elizabeth Gilbert expanded on that passage by suggesting, “Maybe the worst thing you ever endured was a crucible through which you became YOU. Maybe you could not have become YOU through any other means except by going through that trial.” It’s a weird thing, right? To journey so far and in ways feel like you just made your way back to the beginning. The you that you always should have been. The old heart emerging again but softer and braver than it was before, feeling the pulse underneath the noise.