Life and Randomness, work

widening circles

The house is quiet in these early morning hours. My final grades are in, commencement ceremonies are over, and I can feel the slow pace of summer around the bend even among May’s madness. Its been 6 weeks since I’ve written here, and such a shift has happened for me in that time.

Six years ago, I had a crawling baby and a preschooler and no real desire to go back to work just yet, but a former contact from a decade prior reached out to me and nudged me to apply for my current position at the university. I’d been a stay-at-home-mom for three years, and there were a million pieces of me that were terrified of that leap, but also there was something else beneath the fear that felt like a solid yes, so I jumped and applied. I got the job. Fifteen months after I went back to work, I found myself as a single parent, a development I never saw coming. I have thought about that chain of events many times —  the way that the entire universe seemed to be moving to line things up for the next chapter even though I wasn’t aware of it. The way that one thing leads to another and another. It was a God-Send in the truest way. It saved me. Not just that I had an income but that I had colleagues and community and a purpose outside of my home when my life was blown apart.

The kids and I are in a new season now. One mom and two active kids and school schedules and extra curriculars, and though my core group of friends has remained unchanged for 20 years, our family is also deeply rooted in a different community than we were a few years ago — a natural result of kids at these ages. Jude commented this weekend that “it seems like all moms know each other” when I was chatting with someone else, and it made me laugh but also it seems to be true at this stage of parenting when we are orbiting the same small universes.

Anyway, among all this growth and changing shape, I began to see that there were things about my current position that just weren’t working for me anymore. The long (very long) commute, first and foremost, but other things as well. I could feel that desire for change simmering beneath the surface, but I wasn’t sure what to do with it.

This is making a very long story very short, but essentially I reconnected with a colleague from 14 years ago who is an administrator at a school here in our own community, and it began with lots of questions over coffee, then a tour and a class observation, then meeting others there, and now here I am with a new job and a new classroom welcoming me in August.

Nearly everything about my life has changed in the past 5 years, but my place of work was the one thing that didn’t change. I think I hadn’t really considered that stagnation, hadn’t recognized what a security blanket it was for me, until this last few weeks as I’ve come to the decision to close that door and begin something new in another place. Regardless of how sure I am that this is the right decision, it still means leaving my comfort zone behind. This last month has brought a lot of sleepless nights and that slight internal tremor that always comes with the territory of immense change.

There are a million other things I could say about all of this but won’t say it here — Career moves are always sensitive and personal and particular to one person. But I will say that the way this all unfolded and the way I responded illustrated so much growth for me, and I even surprised my own self. I advocated for myself in ways I haven’t before, and it felt natural rather than terrifying. Maybe here I finally am at 38 seeing my own value clearly. It takes courage to look at something that was once perfect and see that it just isn’t working for you anymore — whether that is a relationship or a job or a place you live or anything at all. Cutting that cord is never easy but always the right thing to do.

It’s strange how a life circles back on its own self, isn’t it? The way we revisit old problems and reconnect with old friends and are given a chance to approach the same problem with new eyes and a more solid backbone than we had before. I keep thinking of that widening circles Rilke verse lately. My circles are ever-widening and always moving but still circles nonetheless.

My friend Chyla (another circular connection as I met her years ago at Jen Pastiloff’s Atlanta workshop and we’ve remained friends) has an online group that I’ve been supported by this spring as I laid the groundwork for this transition. The whole workshop has been built around that one big yes that lives inside of each of us. We all have it, and it can change with the seasons. But Chyla prompted us to consider what it is for us today. What is that flame burning inside and wanting to grow to something bigger? What is that dream you cannot shake? What is it that you want to see come to fruition in your life right now?

Mine was simply to follow my own bliss to create a bigger life. I don’t mean bigger as in notoriety or success in the world’s terms perhaps, but just bigger and bolder for me. I want to listen to my own calling and be braver with my choices and lean into what creates joy for me, knowing that it always lights the way to what you are meant to do next, that next widening circle.

In our last session together, Chyla led us in a guided meditation and we journaled a bit. We had to write in answer to the prompt “I pledge to the most high in me…” (that highest form in each of us, that one who holds all the potential and possibility).  The first thing that emerged for me was that I pledge to always keep moving, always evolving, to trust the flow of widening circles. In this season, I’m trusting that if I leap and do the hard thing, the road will rise to meet me. The right people, the right timing, the right experiences are here. As Rilke says about his widening circles, I don’t have to know where it’s going and where it ends, but I give myself to it. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

___________________

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements
Life and Randomness, summer

being before doing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Georgia Love, gratitude, grief

rise up rooted

It’s easy to forget the way life used to be as we sit in the comfort of 2016’s America. I was talking with someone the other day about the McMansion trend happening in the suburbs. The vaulted ceilings, enormous shiny kitchens, three fireplaces in one home – all of which are rarely used and operated by a light switch. Look back even one generation ago, and these traits would have been rare and now they seem commonplace or stale.

My grandmother grew up in a tiny house with her four siblings. Two bedrooms and a kitchen whose walls you can almost touch with both arms if you stretch far enough. Her mother lived there until she died at the age of 92, and the house is still standing. It’s adjacent to my grandparents’ home, and I noted when I wrote her obituary that she was born and died on the same family span of property – a story that almost never happens anymore.

In the front of that tiny house, stood an old tree that shaded the yard and stands central to my childhood memories of family gatherings and Sunday lunches. Shade in the thick Georgia heat as we’d gather with long tables strung together, one right after the other, and food all the way to the end. Homemade ice cream and cousins and games of tag. Afternoons when we’d begin spread all over the yard and slowly move folding chairs to the shady spot as the sun spread a little higher and hotter overhead when the hours wore on.

A limb fell from the tree last week, and as it turns out, much of it was partially rotted, as trees often do with the passage of time.

Untitled

It was taken down on Thursday, and I drove by yesterday. It’s a weird sight to see that house without its tree out front. The whole landscape I know so well altered and feeling exposed, naked. Raw nerves left open when they haven’t closed yet anyway. Change after change after change. It’s only a tree, I know. Except that it’s not.

So many ancient cultures saw trees as more than wooden branches. They’ve been associated with prayer and spirit and protection for thousands of years. It’s easy to see why that is when you look at an old tree. Its wisdom seems to predate and outlast our own. We watch seasons change and colors come and go on the branches. And after every change and loss in the landscape of our real lives, they just seem to watch and listen patiently – a reminder of both what is temporary and what is eternal.

I’ve been thinking a lot this summer about how I was raised, the things I learned without knowing I was learning them, the truths I absorbed. You don’t really think about these things because they become so second nature to you. But as is always the case with death, my grandmother’s passing has me digging back through the loads of memories buried in my own mind and realizing the ways they taught me what I needed to learn.

Do people do this anymore? Do they raise families in tiny homes and see abundance around them instead of need? Do they know third cousins as well as they know siblings? Do they sit on porches and under shade trees for hours on a Sunday afternoon and talk about things other than work or money or pop culture? I think the answer is mostly no, and that makes me sad but also grateful I’ve led the life I have.

I woke this morning to my daily Richard Rohr Meditation in my email inbox, and his subject line read “Rise Up Rooted Like Trees.” Yes, God, I heard you. I’m listening, I’m listening.

Rohr happens to include Rilke, who has guided me so much lately and tells us, “If we surrendered to earth’s intelligence we could rise up rooted, like trees. Instead we entangle ourselves in knots of our own making and struggle, lonely and confused. … This is what the things can teach us: to fall, patiently to trust our heaviness. Even a bird has to do that before he can fly.” The Earth’s intelligence tells us that things rise and fall, live and die. It tells us that we can’t control what is before us, even with vaulted ceilings or three fireplaces. We forget this though. It is a daily struggle for me, in our modern world, to know that you don’t have to be happy all the time, that sorrow and grief have a place in our lives, that our inner landscape is far more important than our outer achievements.

Rohr expands on Rilke a bit by explaining that in nature, “Nothing stays in the same shape or form for long. Plants and animals seem to accept this dying. All of the natural world seems to accept the change of seasons. Nature fights for life but does not resist dying. It learns gravity’s fall, as it were. Only one species resists this natural movement: humans—you and me. … We are free to cling to our own egoic resources, to climb instead of to descend. But we must fall if we are ever to fly.”

You have to descend before you can ascend, don’t you? Reach deeper inward before you can expand outward. Walk through sorrow with honesty before you can feel real joy. You can only rise when you are rooted.

I’m grateful for the memories I have of lazy summers spent under the shade of that tree, the shelter it gave us for the conversations that shaped my life and who I’ve become. And I’m grateful for it still, as it fell and was hauled away in pieces. It’s teaching me the most important lesson in its absence. Let go, let go, let go. Life makes us shed our skin again and again. It hurts to become something new.

_____________________