on making magic

The holidays are officially here. It is snowing outside (!!!) in Georgia as I type this. We occasionally have icy snow in February or so, but these are fluffy flakes that are melting as they hit the roadways but covering branches in white this morning. As a native southerner, I will never think it’s anything less than magical to see snow out my window. I’m drinking coffee to armor up for a long day of grading essays while the kids are at school, but I wanted to take a minute to write first.

I took Norah to a Nutcracker tea party last weekend hosted by her ballet studio. We had treats and tea and watched the “big girls” perform Nutcracker variations. I caught a glimpse of her face watching them, and it is everything I love about ballet condensed to one expression – the awe and the dreaming and the bewilderment at the grace of it all.

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She watches the older girls practice in the studio sometimes and looks at them like they are celebrities. I try to use it as an opportunity to talk about hard work and perseverance, but she mainly just sees it as some kind of magic they have that she hopes to grasp one day.

I see parallels there in my own self. As humans, we tend to look at success in any area – career, health, relationships, anything – as some kind of magic sauce, but when we break anything down to see the smaller pieces, it’s clear that we make our own magic, don’t we? Or at least we make it bloom where the spark began. It starts like some magnetic thing we can’t quite put words to, and it grows when we decide to lean in and make it our own.

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Our elf is not typically very exciting or creative, but he brought a skittle rainbow today. (I can’t take all the credit. I had help on this idea.) Both kids stood enamored this morning with their bed heads and sleepy eyes watching the colors swirl. Seeing Christmas through the eyes of kids is such a reminder that enchantment is there for us if we are just willing to open our eyes to see it. And as a parent pulling all the strings, it also emphasizes my role in creating my life’s magic.

It always requires leaning in a little past where I normally would, laying bare what I usually shy away from showing, and letting that spark ignite without judgement or expectation or cynicism. I think as I get older I am finally understanding that magic does not simply fall from the sky fully formed and ready to bestow itself on the lucky few. It starts with a spark, and it evolves to some kind of fascinating alchemy when we show up for our own lives with a true curiosity, a clear voice, and an open heart.

Love Story

I flew out last Friday morning to Austin, Texas and home again early on Sunday. I’m still recovering from a whirlwind of a weekend spent celebrating the wedding of one of my closest longtime friends. I’ve spent half my week a little delirious from the travel exhaustion and the excitement and the beauty that was all of it.

Traveling mid-semester is no joke. I carried a bag full of student essays with me through airports and airplanes, and I had to work hard to turn off the teacher-brain and the mom-brain living inside of me with that constant voice of rush and guilt and worry. But I managed to quiet those voices for a day or two as I celebrated with some of my oldest friends – some of whom live close or traveled with me and others spread from Texas to New York City.

We celebrated Friday night at the rehearsal dinner and an after party downtown, and then we woke early on Saturday morning and ate breakfast in a a little cafe before stopping by the LBJ Library for a while. Eventually Graffiti Park and Mount Bonnell followed, and the climb up gave us a beautiful view of the Colorado River. Austin is such a unique place, and I already find myself wanting to go back and explore a little more. It was full of so many fun and funky spots.

We walked the few blocks Saturday evening from our hotel to the wedding venue, and I had the best kind of butterflies in my stomach. I’ve seen this friend through something like 18 years of ups and downs and dating questions and heavy moments for the both of us where we thought we knew where the path was going but found soon enough that our assumed outcome wasn’t in the cards for us.

Weddings are almost always beautiful, but this one held its own kind of special for me. A reminder that sometimes the most uncomfortable bumps in the road and the very biggest heartaches are actually exactly what lead us to what is real and true. A reminder never to settle. A reminder that real love is always worth the wait, no matter how long that is for us. A reminder that we never really know where the story ends.

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Weddings can bring all kinds of sticky things for you when you are divorced, that first year or so especially. It’s hard to watch others make promises when you are emerging from the shreds of your own that were left unfulfilled. But this one was easy for me. It felt soft and real and not sharp or sad in the least. Maybe that means I have healed, or maybe that means they are the real deal. Or likely both. Whatever the reason, only love was there.

Krista Tippet writes about her own post-divorce wreckage in her book Becoming Wise. I’ve underlined and noted certain passages in that book and reread them so many times. She echos my own experience; “When my marriage ended, … I became one of the walking wounded in the wreckage of long-term love. After my divorce, I created a welcoming home, took great delight in my children, … invested in far-flung friendships, and drew vast sustenance from webs of care through the work I do. Yet I told myself for years that I had a hole where ‘love’ should be. This is the opposite of a healing story — it’s a story that perceives scarcity in the midst of abundance. … I suddenly realized that the lack of love in my life was not a reality but a poverty of imagination and a carelessly narrow use of an essential word.”

This season of my life has shown me how narrowly I’ve seen that word love. How much bigger it really is from what we perceive it to be. How much it stretches beyond the reach of two individual people and moves far and wide through the circles that make our lives what they are – if we are lucky.

These women are so much to me. Even as a writer, I can’t really describe it in words – which is something I don’t say often. We have seen it all in the past 18 years. They are there through thick and thin. The real thing. I knew it would feel good to see one of our own celebrated like this, but I didn’t expect it to feel this good. I think you know that friendship has reached that magic place when your sadness is truly my sadness, and on the other side, your joy is my joy. It was all joy last weekend, and it felt like such a gift to watch it happen.

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We stole her away for a minute during the reception to step outside for a second and get out of the madness of the crowd. The tears of gratitude wouldn’t stop for me. That joy that hums deep down inside where it is so much fuller when you’ve seen the other end of things. Who knew heartache could make your happy happier? Love is sweeter when you’ve had to wait it out to find it, and love is better when you have friends who see you like a sister. Someone’s husband snuck this picture, and it’s my new favorite thing. I’m the luckiest. 18 years together is something to be grateful for.

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I’ve stopped reading that script that tells me love is somehow less present in my life because I sleep alone. And it’s such a liberating thing to see my life for just a moment from the outside eye – from the camera lens or through the eyes of a friend. I’ve got more love than I can handle, and it overflows sometimes in the very best ways.

I was revisiting some of Laura McKowen’s writings recently, and I stumbled again on her musings on love. She resonates in all the right places for me and reminds me to “keep faith in the larger story….there is a through line that runs deeper and is more benevolent, surprising, and magnificent than you can conceive. … no matter what, do not be mistaken: this is a love story. Your entire life is a love story. It’s just not the kind you think.”

I feel that line running through the undercurrent of my life, and everyday that I get more solid on my own two feet and more grateful, it gets stronger. I don’t know where it’s headed, but it’s taking me with it.

I know there is a more typical love story happening one day in my life, too. The kind with two people and a white dress and all that comes with it. I can’t even explain why I know this except that I just do. The way you know the sky is blue and trees have roots. I can feel it pulling so clearly sometimes in a way that is more real to me than almost anything else in my life.

But I’m waiting it out. And in the meantime, this love story I’m in right now is not the kind I thought it would be, but it is as true as anything ever was for me and anything ever will be. Love is love is love is love.

 

ordinary time

Friday was weirdly cold and rainy — for a May afternoon in Georgia anyway. I attended the university’s graduation ceremony as I always do, but it felt out of place and so strange as I piled on my academic regalia and walked across campus in a cold drizzle. We usually have spring graduation on the front lawn in the sunshine, but it was moved indoors.

I drove home in the rain listening to an episode of On Being that I heard years ago and remembered well, but it was replayed this week, and I couldn’t help but listen again. (It’s no secret I love this show – likely my favorite podcast. I highly suggest subscribing if you don’t already.) Krista Tippet interviews poet Marie Howe, and I can distinctly remember listening to this in something like 2014 when it first aired. I was folding laundry in my son’s room in a house I no longer live in, and I remember dragging the phone with me from room to room to continue listening as I put away everyone’s clothes. It’s always such an interesting experience to listen to music or read a book or see a movie years after you originally did. We hear things differently as we evolve to become different people, I think.  Much of what Howe discusses in the interview relates to her weeks spent with her younger brother in his final days, and that was before I’d had a mirror of that experience with my own grandmother. There are things I hear differently in that interview now.

In the episode, she talks a lot about ordinary time, as she calls it. The moments that are nothing special and easily missed but are also the key to unlocking happiness. She reads her short poem “The Gate” (link here if you want to see her read her own work) where she says, “I had no idea that the gate I would step through to finally enter this world would be the space my brother’s body made.” It’s strange, isn’t it? The gates we step through to finally enter are never the ones we expect. I was thinking about this as the graduates walked to proudly receive diplomas Friday night, that these big moments – graduations and weddings and new jobs and big moves – these are always the ones we assume will most shape us, but it rarely works out that way. It’s the ordinary time that does it. And sometimes the heartbreak, too.

Tippet also asks her in the interview about the process of using writing to break open instead of closed, and I hear echoes of my own story and what I’ve learned through writing in this space. Howe says, “I mean, things are going to happen all the time. The unendurable happens. People we love and we can’t live without are going to die. We’re going to die. … Art holds that knowledge. All art holds the knowledge that we’re both living and dying at the same time. It can hold it. And thank God it can because nothing out in the capitalistic corporate world is going to shine that back to us, but art holds it.” And how true that is, right? I feel like all I ever hear around me is messages of permanence. That what we buy or hold right now matters and will matter forever. Art is the only thing that reflects the impermanence of our everyday lives – which is a thought a lot of people don’t want to let in. It makes you begin to question the race we all run and what it’s really for. The long hours to make the money to buy the things that you don’t have time to enjoy because you are working more to buy more. Nothing about that scenario admits that we are all living and dying at the same time.

She goes on to talk about the connection that happens with writing, saying “So I think that we join each other. It’s easier. We’re not alone. And I feel like that’s the only answer. Otherwise, we’d just think it’s only happening to us. And that’s a terrible and untrue way to live our lives. And I think art constantly mirrors that to us, whether you’re reading Thomas Hardy, or Doris Lessing, or Virginia Woolf, or Emily Dickinson, it’s just holding the human stories up to us, and we don’t feel alone. It’s so miraculous.

I’ve seen that miracle in this space, and I am so grateful for it. For every comment or email that says I get it; me, too. Thank you, thank you. Sharing our stories in all their raw honesty is really where it’s at.

Listening to this interview again almost three years after I initially did makes me grateful for the lessons I’ve learned. I know last summer, hard though it was for me, illuminated things I can never un-see. But also this time I’m in — this liminal space as theologians call it, this in-between where I don’t know with any certainty what is next and I don’t owe anyone anything — it forces me to see the this that Howe refers to. This moment, whatever it may be, is what I’ve been waiting for.

The kids were away this weekend, and though I was tired and it was cold and rainy on Friday, sunshine showed up on Saturday, and I decided to take advantage of it and head a few minutes north to spend some idle afternoon hours at a nearby winery.

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Dating when you have kids is weird and hard. There is a lot I could say about that and likely one day will, but I will say that when you are in it, you just do the best you can. I tend to forget the perfection that exists in simple quiet hours where you do nothing but eat and drink and talk and pay attention. What I value now isn’t the same it once was. Just be honest and true and make me laugh and listen.  And be willing to throw a blanket and a picnic basket in the car and spend a few hours with me doing nothing at all.

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I noticed things on the drive up that I usually don’t as I got to show him the landscape I love so much that has shaped my life. And this whole experience with him has worked that way in me as well. I’m seeing things in my own self that I never noticed were there or things that I had forgotten in the layers of all the other stuff that structures my days. There are so many pieces of my life that are deeply rooted – job and house and kids and immovable pieces of who I am. But I can feel myself bending here and there to notice what I haven’t before or to see things from a different angle, to stretch just a little beyond what I would normally do.  And there it is again – that same command I hear from every yoga instructor – stretch just beyond where you normally would and rest there; don’t force it or rush it. Let it be.

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I’m still in that liminal space and have no indication of what the future holds, but I’m learning this is where the gold is anyhow. No demands or expectations. Just being grateful our paths crossed as they have and taking what is offered to us on a sunny afternoon in May. Being grateful for what is here and not questioning the rest.

Mary Oliver tells us, “This is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely of attentiveness.” Who knew how perfectly imperfect it all can be when you push aside every demand and just slow down and pay attention.

the dirt in the corner

I turned 36 this week. I am not sure how that happened. I was just 33, I thought. And before that just 29. Then 27. I am doing that thing where I double-check my age by glancing at the calendar and then doing the math from the year I was born. I can remember hearing adults do that when I was a kid and thinking, how do you not remember your age? And here I am. But somehow the second digit gets fuzzy when the years fly by quickly. I am 30-something and nearing closer to 40, I suppose. That is specific enough.

I went to a funeral the week before. My great aunt passed, and the service was in the same chapel where I sat almost 9 months ago to sing hymns at my grandmother’s goodbye. Time is a weird thing, sometimes dragging slower than we thought possible and sometimes rushing and sometimes doing something in between that still somehow surprises you.

As I sat in my seat adjacent to the wall, I could lean a little as I listened to the eulogies and the pastor’s message. He spoke a bit about her last years and how difficult they were and what a testament her husband’s love and attention was. I think he quoted I Peter 4:12 which reminds us “do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”

Hardship somehow feels like a surprise though, doesn’t it? Is that an American thing? A modern thing? A middle class thing? A human thing? I don’t know. But even now, after all the lessons I have learned, I am still sometimes surprised and exhausted at mishaps and trials of any kind.

A couple weeks ago I was off on midterm break while public schools were still in session. Jude woke first that morning and headed downstairs before I did. As I fumbled out of bed to make coffee, he came racing back up the stairs, Mama! There’s water dripping!

After what happened 5 months ago, I am ridiculously paranoid and react with almost PTSD panic about any water issues, so my heart jumped and I ran downstairs in emergency mode. As it turns out, the one bathroom that was not touched in the renovation had a leaking supply line. It was only a trickle, but it left a water spot below and a slow drip in the living room. I turned the water off at the main valve in the house, then at the street, then calmly called my plumber.

He came later that day and replaced it quickly and inexpensively, but in that process, we discovered that my hot water heater was slowly leaking a bit and on its last leg – which probably explains why my bath could only get half full these days before turning lukewarm. I took a deep breath. Here we are again. Two days later, I was $1700 poorer but have hot water and new valves throughout the house in every single sink and toilet.

It’s just life. This house is almost 12 years old, and it’s simply time for some wear and tear to be replaced. But it’s so easy to get frustrated with what Peter called the fiery ordeals, the flies in the ointment, the salt on the melon. Anne Lamott writes in Small Victories that “Life can just be so lifey. Life on life’s terms, which I don’t remember agreeing to.” Amen to that. Me either.

But at 36, I’m learning to change my expectations a bit. Leaks will happen, and funerals will too. Hot water heaters will break. Siblings will squabble. Laundry piles will grow more quickly than you want them to while bank accounts grow more slowly.

But we still have sunsets, thank God for that. And chocolate cake and music. And snoring dogs, laughing children, hot coffee, soft sheets. And occasionally I have mornings like this one where I am alone in a quiet house with a minute to be here without demands and expectations. I read Elizabeth Alexander’s “Ars Poetica #100: I Believe” with my students this week. She claims “Poetry is what you find in the dirt in the corner, overhear on the bus, God in the details, the only way to get from here to there.” I think if we are being honest with ourselves, all of life might be what you find in the dirt in the corner. Those little bits of time are the only way I ever get from here to there, the only way I put it all together.

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I have so many hopes for my 36th year. Big ones, like a book proposal. But lately, I just keep swimming as best I can, and these goals are pushed to the back burner. I woke up at 5:15am on my birthday and set my intention with a yoga session before I began my day. I’ve got to carve time somehow to sift the treasure from the dirt. Books don’t write themselves.

Spring is here in Georgia. Ripe strawberries are making their way to grocery stores, and birds chirp at us in the rush of our morning routines. I’m trying hard to squeeze out every ounce of energy spring offers me. God is in the details, no doubt. And life is in the tiny pieces of time we carve away from the bigger picture.

brave

I turned the page to a new calendar today, and I don’t remember the last time that felt so good. Actually, that’s not true. I said the same thing in 2015 and 2016. This last few years have left me like some molting animal, I think. Shedding, shedding, shedding continuously. By the time the year is over, I am so ready to shake it loose and let the layers fall.

The kids’ custody schedule this holiday has had them back and forth a lot, and I am not sure I like it that way. Every 3 or 4 days, they were packing up to head to the other parent’s house, so it felt like we could hardly sink in before they left again and again. They are due home any minute now, and we have a huge family gathering tonight followed by a few more days of leisure before school schedules resume.

I think I am ready to move forward to the hard work of getting started this year. I cannot look back at the last two years of my life and say I’ve been complacent…. This journal, above all else, shows me the ways I’ve grown immeasurably. But as I wrote here a few days ago, I’ve just been swimming along as best I can with a pretty strong current that wasn’t really controlled by me. I’m on the road to intention again now, I hope.

I took a while today to go through all the things I’d written in my gratitude jar this year. One by one, I pulled them out and read what I’d scribbled, and I am consistently reminded each year how only the very simplest things can bring me real joy. Any handful I grabbed to read brought the same message.

January 4 Driving, winter sunset. Black, bare branches against the sky. Patty Griffin from the speakers. March 3 Cold rain, fuzzy blanket. May 22 Norah running from the neighbor’s house to ours at 7pm. Golden light. Smiling. June 17 Talking with Grandmother as she lays in the bed. She sees me yawn and tells me to place a pillow next to her hip and lie down with her. Her wrinkled hands next to me. July 23 Winery with friends, outside table, north Georgia hills, sunshine, breeze. October 16 Singing happy birthday to Jude with a candle in the brownie pan. No ceiling above us in the kitchen. Laughing. November 27 Writing in bed, cold outside. Blanket heavy.

I think the hardest thing I’ve ever done is to stay open. I’m seeing this now again and again, and it never stops being hard. Open in the face of fear and uncertainty. Open in the face of what we’ve had to do before. It is difficult to soften instead of harden, isn’t it? The bravest thing, no doubt. The only way I can do it is to chase that beauty and find the light somehow.

What I see when I read these scribbled sheets of paper and I revisit the very best moments in my year and in my life is that I was open to it – whatever it was. I was paying attention and ready and waiting for love to show up in one of its many forms. Love comes in beauty, in comfort, in laughter, in solitude, in song, and most of all in the quiet. When I have the patience to wait for it and the willingness to perceive it, I see it everywhere.

In Tiny Beautiful Things, there’s a letter where Strayed urges the reader,“You will learn a lot about yourself if you stretch in the direction of goodness, of bigness, of kindness, of forgiveness, of emotional bravery. Be a warrior for love.”

Intention is my word for the year. I am tired of being swept in the current. I want this to reflect itself in every facet of my life – my home, my bank account, my classroom, my relationship with my kids, my time and energy, my writing.

My life’s work, all of it, is to pay attention and know myself and do things on purpose. Piece by piece, it will come together like it’s meant to. I have no doubt.

To doing and being and stretching in the directions we are meant to stretch. To creating a life that is good and big and kind and forgiving and brave. To purpose and intention as we march forward to what’s ahead. Happy New Year, reader! Onward.

 

 

 

attention

It’s 9:42 pm on the winter solstice. The kids left this morning for a few days away before they come home to me again on Christmas Eve. I washed clothes and prepped holiday food and cleared shelves of things I don’t need any longer. At 5:30, as the sun was beginning to set, I lit a candle in a quiet house and got back to my yoga mat after far too long of an interruption. As I write this, it is dark and cold, and the dog is snoring at my side.

I have been thinking and journaling and reflecting and planning these past few days. There is something about writing things down that makes them real. I want so many things for the new year. This past year has been full of challenge after challenge, and they served me in ways I’d never expect  – always growing and always changing and always opening. But I have been on autopilot for this past three months, it seems. Life can do that to you sometimes. One foot in front of the other: pay the bills, do the laundry, tend to kids, clean the toilets, answer the emails. I’m ready to snap out of it and get back on the road of intention.

I am reading that many people are choosing one word resolutions instead of specific goals, like a theme word for your year. I have thought a bit about what mine would be for 2017 – purposeful, pursue, intention, attentive, persist. They all speak to the same thing, I guess. Pay attention. Do things on purpose. Shed what doesn’t serve me any longer.

I’m reading One Thousand Gifts again as someone passed it on as a present for me this week. I hadn’t looked through that book at all in something like 7 years, but I stumbled on her description today of exactly what has been ailing me lately. “It’s the in between that drives us mad. It’s the life in between, the days of walking lifeless… simply going through the hollow motions, the self-protecting by self-distracting, the body never waking…” It is a constant struggle in the world we live in to not self-protect by self-distracting, to find meaning in the motions. Writing helps me do exactly that, but even that takes time, focus, and discipline. I am ready to get back at it again.

I have also been delving into The Atlantic’s list of this year’s 50 Best Podcasts. I thought I listened to a lot of podcasts, but there are so many on here that are new to me. Number 26 is the Modern Love series spun from the influence of the New York Times’ Modern Love column – which if you haven’t read it before is worth your time, such incredible non-fiction. I was listening to an episode earlier this week about how you should always marry a man who fiercely loves his mother (wholeheartedly agree on that sentiment) and there was a line about sorrow that was mentioned in the interview with the writer, and it is an image I will never forget. She said something along the lines of “if we could see our sorrows hanging like fruit from a tree alongside everyone else’s – all the sorrows in the world hanging together… If we could pick any of them, we’d still pick our own.” As the weeks roll by here at the end of 2016 and I reflect on the year behind me, I am feeling that more and more. Even as I look at others who might hurt less in the face of their own challenges, who feel less and have less skin in the game, so to speak. I would pick my sorrows, my year, above anyone else’s. I wouldn’t trade places, even if it meant less challenge or less pain. These fruits are hard-earned, but there’s sweetness in the center.

You have to pay attention to find the sweetness though, don’t you? You pause and observe and feel it as it stings or warms or glows or washes away the things you never needed to begin with. Now more than ever, I am seeing that my soul has been washed clean this year in that very specific way that hardship and grief can bring, and I think it’s ready for the newness that lies on the other side.

In One Thousand Gifts, Voskamp also reminds us that “Life is so urgent, it necessitates living slow.” I read this, and I think of the most memorable moments that filled my year, the most meaningful ones. They were all so slow and yet urgent with their passing tide that disappears.

Flashes of memory from a year well-spent: kids splashing on the beach at sunset, my Grandmother’s hands on my face in those days when we were counting the hours, Norah lifting chubby preschool fingers to tip a soup bowl to her mouth at the dinner table, driving winding mountain roads alone with the cloudy rumble of an incoming July storm, shelling boiled peanuts in the fall sunshine on a wooden bench, wrapping lights around our little tree. The very best seconds only come when you are going slowly enough to notice them.

 

feel the pulse

We are on day 16 of the post-flood demolition and renovation, and it’s starting to wear on me. At first I was surprised at how little we paused for the interruption, but now I’m growing tired of the mess. It’s hard enough to keep two kids reasonably sorted out with their own things in even the best of circumstances. But my coffee table is in the playroom and the television on the living room floor as I type this. My laundry room is not usable. Everything turned upside down for a little while longer.

I think this experience has taught me a lot of things – as difficult experiences usually do. I’ve learned that a physical space it not what determines a home and that home is the space I have created between the three of us. But I’m also beginning to see that my home routine turned upside down is a trigger for me in terms of stress and exhaustion. I am the ultimate introvert and homebody in many ways. My house is important to me as a little refuge from the rest of my day – which can be exhausting to say the least. All day long, I hear demands scream loudly, and home is usually my space of familiar and real, a place where I can feel the pulse of who I am. But right now it doesn’t feel familiar at all. I’m working to carve out little spaces that feel cozy despite the madness. But my little office / writing room is really the only spot not affected by this mess right now. Our things are shifted all over the place, and my kitchen isn’t all that inviting with its cement floors.

That said, I am finally reaching the fun part in this process. I spent part of yesterday perusing flooring choices, and I’ve got paint samples to try later today. I’m shopping light fixtures online and trying to make decisions carefully and thoughtfully.  I purged so much unnecessary stuff this summer, but this process is basically like moving all over again as the work is completed in each room, so it’s an opportunity to streamline even more. When else do you get the chance to do this? Not much. There is a silver lining to the mess for certain. My home will be all mine from top to bottom when it is done, and I have this time to make it what I want it to be.

Physical spaces carry such an energy, don’t they? I went on a ghost tour last night with a couple of friends, and we walked around old historic estates, tiny houses once inhabited by mill workers, and a historic cemetery with unmarked graves. Whatever your beliefs are about the spirit realm and whether or not we can feel or connect, I know places have an energy to them. We feel this in churches, in historic spaces, and in our own homes, too.

As I reflect on the homes or spaces that have meant the most to me over the years, I can see how little comfort is determined by the actual objects on your walls or size of your house or condition of your furniture. Love and hospitality shine through without regard for that – as does greed or selfishness or a preoccupation with appearance or money. Energy doesn’t lie. You either feel welcomed and at home or you don’t, and so little of that is a result of aesthetics. You can breathe a lot easier when a space is authentic, and I’m trying to remind myself of this as I make decisions in this renovation. What feels like us? What works best for the lives we lead? What is left in this space that is a piece of my old life that doesn’t apply anymore? Out with the old and in with the new.

My grandmother’s passing taught me a lot about this, too. When I was a kid, I only saw abundance everywhere in her home. Always food for us to eat, always space for us to play without feeling like we were intruding or unwelcome, always little comforts that made you want to stay longer. My grandad is still there, of course, but we have cleaned out little bits of her things here and there, and I have stayed there a good bit this month in light of my own house’s mess. And again and again I’m surprised to see the simplicity in their home. I saw abundance when I was younger because of the energy present with love and hospitality and authenticity, not because of anything I could touch or see.

It’s the smallest objects that carry meaning as we sifted through a few of her belongings after she died. Old clothes I passed on to a friend to use in a quilt for me. Christmas ornaments I can remember hanging year after year on her tree. Old photographs and cards. Nothing of material value at all.

A couple months ago, I found a birthday card she’d given me and decided I wanted to use the handwriting on a piece of jewelry. I told my grandfather about this, and he decided he wanted to gift one to each of the women in my family – aunts and cousins and my mom and sister – all of us. I ordered them from Leo’s Mark and couldn’t be happier with the result. I’ve hardly taken mine off since I got it.

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All of her cards always said We love you, never I love you. It made sense for them and how they are and is a testament to their partnership and not just the sweetness of who she was. And every time I put it on, I think of her. The older I get, the less stuff I feel like I need in my life. But I am also learning how it feels to surround myself with a few things that are meaningful and purposeful. I’m working to do this in my home, my closet, my office, everywhere. Even in my own heart and daily interactions. Do someone’s words offer something meaningful and purposeful? If so, I take them to heart. If not, I let them fall away.

Leo’s Mark did such beautiful work with these necklaces, and they have all kinds of ways to honor a loved one if you have handwriting samples of any kind. They were incredibly helpful in designing and orchestrating all of this, and they’re offering readers 10% off with the coupon code MAMATHEREADER10 if you want to treat yourself or someone else to something that is both beautiful and meaningful. (What a perfect holiday gift!)

There is a Iain Thomas quote that says, “And everyday the world will drag you by the hand yelling, ‘This is important! And this is important! And this is important! You need to worry about this! And this! And this!’ And each day, it is up to you to yank your hand back, put it on your heart, and say ‘No. This is what’s important.'” I’m honoring this time in my own life to let the unimportant fall away and watch what happens as the outside of my life begins to align more sharply with my own heart. Keeping my hand on my heart everyday to feel the pulse of what matters.