gratitude, single parenthood

long uphill climb

I’ve had a few days alone as the kids are on spring break and on a trip with their dad. Truthfully, I’ve got neither the cash nor the time for a trip right now, and I am always a little anxious with them away, but I’m so happy they get the chance to go. I am in full swing at work with only about 4 weeks left of class this semester. Student meetings and a visiting poet today and papers pouring in and reports to complete for administrative purposes. I’m almost drowning, but I don’t mind since I’ve come to associate this frantic April pace with a long rest that is coming soon enough.  Summer is around the corner.

Yesterday my friend indulged me in a belated birthday treat that we’ve had on the calendar for weeks. I went to a traditional Korean sauna, and it was outside of my comfort zone in ways (gender segregated nude areas), but it always feels so good to push myself to do something new. I don’t do it enough. I ended up getting a “body shampoo” which actually means someone scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed every dead skin particle off my body and left me feeling like a baby. It was a perfect ritual to mark spring and newness. I need to shed so many things, I think. And so often our bodies are the tools through which we can get to something else. I see that idea reflected more and more as I age.

After that, I spent five hours lounging in their various saunas – lined with anything from amethyst to charcoal to clay. As we walked out into the Atlanta spring sun, it felt like nothing was left in my skin that was there when I walked in. Newness is good.

Life has evened out in a way that, to be totally honest, makes me feel really strange. I spent the last two years shedding layer upon layer, and now what? I am just here and moving along at a usual pace and there are no scary surprises or catastrophes or major adjustments. I think yesterday’s experience felt so good because it has been too long since I jumped out of my comfort zone (after two solid years of living every single second outside of it). It’s easy to fall back into that human desire for complacency and consistency, isn’t it? Sometimes we need experiences – little or big – to shake us up again.

Two summers ago, I read Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea at the recommendation of a friend. It resonated with me in a major way, and I like to revisit it every now and then. Lindbergh says, “It isn’t for the moment you are struck that you need courage, but for that long uphill climb back to sanity and faith and security.”

I think I am on the long uphill climb now. The part where I am out of the woods, but now I figure out what I want and how to get it and do the hard work of plowing ahead to get there. I want so many things — stability and comfort and solid ground but also persistent renewal and new challenges. I’m grateful for the wide open road in front of me, and the different sort of stability that I feel having spent two years on my own feet in some rocky waters. I don’t want those same kind of rocks again, but I do want some new terrain on this uphill climb. I want to see new places and have the faith to pursue what I know is coming for me. More.

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Our back patio is overflowing with so much green  – thanks to my grandad’s generosity and my inherited love for homegrown food. The kids help pick greens every night now – lettuces and chard and kale that make their way to the dinner table. We’ve created this place somehow with neighbors and friends and our own little village of sorts. I was making dinner one night last week to glance up and catch a glimpse out the back patio door of my two playing with a crowd of neighborhood kids with bare feet and short sleeves and late daylight. It was the simplest of moments but the one I scribbled on paper for my gratitude jar that night. Here we are in a home we love with predictable routines and a solid foundation.

I’ve heard that saying “what you take for granted someone else is praying for,” but now I see it in my own life in a different way. What I have now, this little life with all of its routine beauty, is what I so desperately prayed for years ago when I really couldn’t see my out to the other side yet. And here I am. But now I want more, and I can feel it just out of reach. That’s the secret perhaps – to always be reaching for more and pausing in between to listen to that voice that tells you what you really want.

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single parenthood

it will write itself

Sometimes a story is so big and messy that I don’t know how to tell it. Do I start at the beginning? Do I begin in the middle and move outward? Or do I give you the frame, the skeleton, and then fill in the color for you?

Here is the frame: in 48 hours, Bob Dylan won the Nobel prize for literature, my kids met their new half sibling, my son turned seven, and half of my house flooded.

I heard my phone chime on Thursday morning as I drove to work, and she was in labor at the hospital. The same date, as life would have it, that I checked in the hospital to labor with my first baby as well. It took almost two days to get him out, and her outcome was much faster, but a shift has been working in me these past few months somehow, and the dam finally broke.  Now I see that everything has changed. Two parallel tracks now. Two separate families. Two entirely different worlds as our kids bounce between mom and dad’s houses. And most importantly, two different mothers exist now – each with her own children.

Divorce is real and final, and I have accepted myself as a single mother for almost two years now, but there is something different when someone you spent fifteen years of your life with has truly begun another family. It was surreal as they Facetimed the kids just an hour or so after birth and I saw the image on the screen. That tiny squealing baby, that other mother next to the father of my own kids. The image of him starting all over again. But all set against the contrast of mirrors and memories buried in my own mind from a time not so long ago.

My son turned seven yesterday, and my world is different than it once was. This is the first year I’m not posting his birthday letter on the blog – just quietly placing it in the safe with the others. He has his own ideas now, his own self, his own need for privacy and understanding. But I remember the beginning so well. Arriving at the hospital late at night, waking up the next day with contractions. The nineteen hours of work and the eventual surgery and those first few days when it was just the three of us, no one else.

It was the most incredible feeling to see that you created something with this other person, and that thing you created is a whole new life. A whole new family. Her reality is very different, I’m sure. And I cannot speak to any other mother’s experience. But a weird shift is happening where I feel compassion for her and a genuine sense of bewilderment at how different it must be when the other partner already has children. Do you still get that sacred bubble of time and space where you are the only people in the world who matter? That feeling that this is it; this is your family?  I don’t know. I hope so because even now as I stand confused at the memories behind me and what they meant or didn’t mean to him, my earliest days of motherhood are among the fullest and happiest memories I have as my heart broke open to make way for the path ahead. I want so badly for her to have that growth as well, that enhanced understanding of the world around her and recognition of her own power. I’m rooting for her in a genuine way that I didn’t expect to manifest like this. Life is full of surprises, isn’t it?

So the kids went to sleep Thursday night, and I cried in the bathtub for a while, if I’m being honest. Not so much at the sadness of the situation but at the way that life hands you something that is such a combination of ugly and beautiful that you don’t know what to do with it. This is my path, and that is hers. But we are one and the same. As Bob Dylan himself says, “Behind every beautiful thing, there is some kind of pain.”

I awoke at 4:30 unable to go back to sleep, but even when my alarm rang at 5:30, I laid there a while longer. I stumbled to the shower, grateful it was Friday. And as I was stepping out, I saw water pouring from under my sink. When I say pouring, I mean an ocean of water flowing faster than I could think. I open the door of the vanity to see a broken pipe and water spewing with what felt like the force of a hurricane. I used every brain cell available before coffee which is approximately three of them, and I did what all 35 year old grown women do in a crisis. I called my mom.

As I’m flying through the house in my dripping bathrobe, Norah wakes up, and I tell her there’s water everywhere. She gets excited like it’s an adventure, and I am downstairs in my robe panicking on the phone to my mom and looking frantically for the main cut off. These are things I should know as a single adult and homeowner, but there seems to be no room for this information among the files of school permission slips and food preferences and doctor appointments and work to-do lists in my head. After about three minutes, I realize that knocking on a neighbor’s door at 5:50am is a good way to give someone a heart attack and why should they know where my water cut off is? We have a fire department half a mile from my neighborhood and there is water falling through my kitchen ceiling at this point, so I call 911.

“Ummm, hi. We are fine. No one is hurt. But my house is flooding and I’m looking for a main cut off outside and in my house and I cannot find one. I’ve been here a year, and I am the only adult here, and clearly I should know this but I do not know what I’m doing. Obviously.” The operator told me to head outside, and they would meet me there. And it occurred to me that I was not wearing real clothes. So I threw some on, and woke up Jude who was somehow still sleeping through all this, and we headed outside together.

Fire truck at the house at 6:00am. Kids on the porch wrapped in blankets waving at them. And I look down to see that I am bra-less with a shirt on both inside out and backwards. We are a circus.

In three minutes’ time, they had it off. From beginning to end, the pipe was open maybe 15 minutes – if that. The damage tells a far bigger story though.

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I managed to get Jude on the bus at 7:30, homework intact and hair combed, which is perhaps the single greatest accomplishment of my life forever after. (And thanks to a neighbor who let him brush his teeth there and walked him to the bus stop while I called insurance.) One by one, I checked the things off the list. Insurance claim number, restoration services. Right, left, right, left. Just keep moving.

We will be okay, and I know this. The kids bedrooms are untouched, and the kitchen is clean now and usable without the ceiling. Fans are here, and we are almost dried out, and the work of renovations will come soon. But the ceiling fell – literally and in that other way, too. Life is reminding me that sometimes you just have to start all over and that I can do hard things.

I know a day will come when I will think, remember that 20 month period when my husband left, I moved two little kids, he married someone else, Jude started kindergarten, I got in a car accident, I had gum surgery, my grandmother died, my ex had a baby with the new wife, and my house flooded? All in less than two years’ time, and here I am still standing on my own two feet somehow. Nothing scares me anymore. Nothing at all.

The house is not uninhabitable, but my granddad heard what happened and offered that I stay with him for the weekend since the kids are gone anyhow. I happily said yes and brought loads of heavy, wet laundry and a weary spirit. We talked a good bit, but we sat in silence a good bit as well, and it was good for the both of us. Talking with him does me more good than talking to anyone else lately because he takes the long view. He’s never looking at the here and now that can overwhelm and scare me. Always steady and always keeping in mind the greater arc of my story and the bigger picture, he brings me calm. Who knows what the long view is with my two and their half-sibling and the challenges of blending families, but the three of us are the family I can feel and touch and support and fight for. The rest is not my story to write. It will write itself, as he reminded me. It always does.

My weekend felt eerily similar to when I would stay there as a little girl. The floors creak in the same spots they always have and the sheets smell a very particular and comforting way I can never bury beyond the surface of my memories. Though I haven’t slept in that house in more than a decade, I know his nighttime rhythms well. The television was playing Saturday night’s rotation of gospel hymns, and he offered me ice cream before bed as we sat together and listened. I’m looking now, just across a river, to where my faith will end in sight. There’s just a few more days to labor, and then I’ll take my heavenly flight.

I cannot tell what is across the river in this life. I don’t know how the story ends when my season of growth and labor is over. I have grown so much from this season in my life, but if I can be honest for a minute, I am tired of growing. I know I can do hard things, and I can do it all alone if I need to. But I’m ready for rest. I’ve heard it said that if your obstacles are bigger than you’d imagined and God is making you wait, then be prepared to receive even more than what you asked for. I hope this is true. The wait feels long, and I’m ready to lighten the load.

But despite it all, I fell asleep last night grateful to rest in a space I know well enough that my bones recognize it. So much can change, but what matters always stays the same, doesn’t it? Me, myself, here, now. Safe and strong.

gratitude, grief

broken open

Fall is over in a blink in Georgia, so I’m trying to take it all in. We are sleeping with the windows open, but I always wake in the middle of the night to feel a chill and then close the window pane and spread the extra blanket over the bed. I made our favorite soup last week, and I’m already craving it again. My school days are busy with the frantic pace of midterms and the grading pile that ebbs and flows, but I live for the afternoon light everyday. What is it about October light just before dinner that makes it so perfect? I wish I could bottle it up for January’s darkness.

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Saturday brought a soccer game followed by a visit to a local pumpkin farm. It’s a small family operation just down the road from where I grew up, and our families have known of each other for ages. On the way over, I texted my cousin that we were headed there, and she walked over from her house next door to the farm. It feels good to belong somewhere with a long history, but autumn makes you crave it even further. We all settle in a little more snugly, I think. In whatever ways we can.
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We ate popcorn and boiled peanuts, and I watched cousins get lost and found again in a corn maze. We took the hayride around the pond like we do every year and followed that with the long and important task of picking out the perfect pumpkin.

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My grandad came with us as he works pretty steadily lately to stay busy and occupied when he can. There is still a hollow spot in the space where she has always been, that lull in the conversation. It is so stark at their house especially, where Norah will wander upstairs when we’re there and say it’s because certain rooms “still smell like Grandmother.” And they do. The scent lingering everywhere – literally and metaphorically.

On the other hand, I’m also finding moments when it’s getting more comfortable in ways as well; her absence is a little more predictable and familiar now – which is always a scary moment in the grieving process. It almost seems like the person lingers and hovers for a while in a very real way. You can feel their touch and see their belongings and hear the voice and smell the scent. They are close for a while to gently ease us out of the solid presence we are so used to, and then they fade a bit so that the haze wears away from your vision, and you can handle what life is sending you next as you create space and possibility instead of loss. Everything she taught me is still here and even somehow distilled to a cleaner and more concentrated form. But her physical self isn’t hovering in the way it first was.

This is life. This is how it goes. Seasons change and leaves fall and people fade from our lives in that way they are made to do. Mary Oliver says, “to live in this world you must be able to do three things — to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.” That is so much easier said than done. But here we are, four months after her passing, in the midst of a new season she has never seen. It looks both terrifyingly unfamiliar and newly beautiful all at once.

It’s also Mary Oliver who claims it is worthwhile “to break your heart, by which I mean only that it break open and never close again to the rest of the world.”

As I look back, heartbreak has broken me open again and again. It is never happiness and assurance and predictability that get you someplace new, is it? A decade spent in the classroom – first high school kids and eventually university students – gives me a special glimpse into that phase of life when you feel so sure about everything and everyone. When you assume that the path in front of you will unfold exactly like you see it in your mind’s eye. How funny that loss is what actually moves us on the path if you let it happen and feel it honestly.

Here I am in the thirty-fifth October of my life, and I’m seeing that you really are not capable of understanding that without a few decades on this earth. Life chisels away all the rough edges when we let it. It makes me look forward to the Octobers ahead as I will undoubtedly deepen and soften in ways I don’t yet understand.

Leaves fall and seasons change, and autumn is here to remind me again that nothing is permanent. It’s hard to wait on the hand of time to reveal the treasure to you, but it always does eventually.

Life and Randomness

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.

gratitude, Life and Randomness

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.

divorce, Life and Randomness

increments

Last week crawled along at the slowest possible pace. We’ve had weeks and weeks of steady rain in Georgia, and I’d forgotten what the sun looks like. It’s back this week though, and I can hardly believe tomorrow is already Thursday. It’s amazing how many little factors can influence your outlook.

We discovered a little trail in the woods behind our neighborhood yesterday, and Jude wanted to go for a quick walk again today the minute we walked in the door. I ignored any other nagging responsibilities, and we took off. Norah and I followed behind him, and he felt proud to lead the way. We ended up at a little pond before turning around to head back home just before sunset.

UntitledLittle gifts are stored for me along the way when I have eyes to see them. I listen to Rob Bell’s podcast every week, and the episode I heard this week was titled “Increments and Explosions.” He discussed the secrets of people who, as he put it, grow younger instead of older. Grow lighter instead of heavier, softer instead of harder. The key as he sees it, and I agree, is personal growth. And this growth sometimes happens in increments when we create the little habits that shape our perspectives and lend us room to grow. It’s the result of daily work. Then, of course, we have the explosions – the moments life explodes the experiences set forth to give us growth even if they are painful and we don’t quite feel ready for them.

November is a big month for me, a huge marker in 2015. The first year following any tragedy or hardship is rough, as anyone will tell you. And when you can pass all of those reminders, watch the four seasons come and go again, and know that you survived, it feels like you’re finally able to exhale. I’ve still got a few markers and reminders left in front of me in the weeks ahead, but I am almost there. I’ve almost arrived at the clean slate marking a full year alone.

I look back at this entry from last November and cry a little for that person. I felt so scared of what was ahead. I had no idea how bright the sun was shining on the other side.

I’ve grown in explosions since the night I wrote that entry – the initial one, of course, plus some other big moments. But so much of it has been in little increments, too. I’m so glad, as I near the end of this instrumental year for me, that I have this journal to look back on. I think gratitude (as a true daily practice, not just the concept) has been the driving force behind my incremental expansion. And also pause and insight. And truly feeling the painful discomfort that has unfolded sometimes as I’ve broken in this new skin, no matter how much I wanted to numb it. All of those things have lended me growth.

And most of all, writing has become such a guidepost for me. I’m not certain how I would have survived the year with clarity if I didn’t have this space and this practice of putting words together without an aim or destination.

I feel fearless in a way I never have. I think that’s what happens when you spend time in “no man’s land” as Pema Chodron calls it. What you previously thought was the worst thing that could happen has already happened, and you survived. Not only survived but grew bigger. I’m not scared of much of anything now. Life ahead is a vast empty space, and I have no idea where I will go or what I will do, but as I look back at the past year of my life and increments and explosions that landed me here, I think I’m meant for something that could only happen on this path.