What a Wonder

I see trees of green, red roses too

I see them bloom, for me and you

And I think to myself, what a wonderful world

~Louis Armstrong

 

Blue skies from horizon to horizon. Lazy drone of a plane. Sunlight filtered through dancing leaves. Every color of green on exhibit (the corn around our house is wearing a shade so flamboyant with life right now it could grow legs a walk away). A kite tail of white butterflies lifting and diving over the purple thistles. Hummingbirds hovering over geraniums.

I present to you, Summer.

It’s Solstice, and in my humble opinion, the most wonderful time of the year. (Andy Williams, can we agree to disagree on this one?) As I’ve watched this summer’s birth, I’ve had one phrase run through my mind over and over: what a wonder. Watching baby wrens leave their nest in our basement? What a wonder! (Husband had a slightly different phrase about bird-watching from within the house. But he’s too much a softy to disrupt the nest or the hearts of three girls thrilled to be watching, so he let it go. Just this once, of course.) The kids playing sweaty, meeting new friends at the park? What a wonder. The smell of summer rain? What a wonder. The rainbow reaching high as the heavens from the setting sun, turning the whole sky aglow? WHAT A WONDER!

Girls on monkey bars.jpg

My love letter to summer could go on for days. It’s a season of extravagance; copious in color, in warmth, in daylight hours, in opportunities, in life.

Yet I have unpleasant tendencies of either turning the lack of schedule into laziness, or turning it into a scarcity. I told Dave several days ago I felt like summer was already passing us by too quickly. He responded, “I don’t think it’s even started yet.”

This year I’ve had a vivid desire to live these lazy hazy crazy days of summer more purposefully. (Anybody else just take a 30 minute Gilmore Girls detour after that phrase? Good luck getting that song out of your head. Thanks, Taylor.) To be more intentional about how we play and rest and spend our energy and time.

I’ve identifying some priorities, some better time management practices, some ideas to make sure each week we learn and explore and connect and love with purpose.

Mostly, I’m intent on noticing the wonder. The word “wonderful” is perhaps overused and easily sounds like everything is rolling hunky-dory. That’s not my life, nor anyone’s that I know, and certainly is not the world around us. But considered as inspiring delight, pleasure, or admiration, there are wonderful things everywhere!

Some days we just have to look a little harder.

Honestly? I’ve spent the last year noticing more keenly the brokenness, the injustice, the great human heartache, be it of refugees, victims of hate crimes and racism, or the teens living here in my tiny town. It’s often had me like a deer in the headlights, wide-eyed and paralyzed. It’s made me hesitant to embrace laughter and joy, afraid that light-hearted fun would somehow disregard the suffering simultaneously present.

But it hit me again lately that it isn’t either/or. It’s both/and, especially when it comes to joy and sadness. They don’t negate one another. If anything, they validate the other.

I’m committed to empathy and justice, to holding up weary hands, to listening and grieving. But I’m also committed to better embracing the joy. To living wonder-full, inspired and delighted by the good, meaningful, beauty around.

Summer seems like a pretty great teacher.

I have a hunch that living more wonder-full makes for less wander-lust. There isn’t time for restless discontentment when we’re wowed by the beauty right before us.

Here’s to summer. I hope it is flowers and fresh fruit, laughter and play, adventure and rest, sunsets and fireflies, meaningful work and relationships. I hope your heart is flooded with all the goodness of God.

I hope your summer is wonder-full.

I’ll be posting a photo nearly (and I’m careful to phrase it that way) every day, of some wonder that catches my eye this summer. If you capture your summer moments on Instagram, stick the hashtag #summerofwonderful on as well, I’d love to see what all you're noticing. 

Here’s a reminder I’m giving myself, in case you need it too: not all the photos have to be incredible shots, and not all the sentiments behind them have to be giddy with happiness. Wonder can be found in the frustrating, grimy, disappointing, and down-right rotten days too. Look around. Look around!

What a wildly wonderful world, God!

You made it all, with Wisdom at your side,

Made earth overflow with your wonderful creations.

~Ps. 104, Message

 

2015 Hardest and Happiest

I’m not big on resolutions and massive goals. I do love looking back over a year and noting what I learned, the ups and downs, and then looking forward and identifying the dreams, the changes and the accomplishments I hope to see happen in the new year.

Last week I sat down one quiet afternoon and made a list of what stood out when I reflected on 2015. A list of the lows, and across the page, a list of the highs.  It shined a spotlight on what matters the most in my life, made me see a redemptive perspective already on some of the difficult events, and helped me clearly see some gaps I can focus on filling this year. Most of all, as I thought hard and honest about the year, I felt thankful. What I’m sharing here is a modified list, but in the unabridged version, the highs out number the lows by almost double. Even with the many fears and frustrations, sad days and difficult transitions, it was a good year. It was a simple year, more so than usual for us. And yet I looked over the lines of happy memories and felt the richness of it. The things that made me smile  were the things with the least flair, the unpretentious happenings of every day life. If you’re looking for clarity as you start a new year, I think this simple exercise is a great place to start.

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20160104_125550-1_resized

Because my current settings do not support quality photos (oh who am I kidding, more like the current administrator does not have competency to adjust said settings) I doubt you'll be able to read much of my list, so here are some highlights:

HARDEST:

Leaving the little house and neighborhood I loved

Disheartening racist events

Loosing Jazz

Lack of community

A closed door on what had appeared to be a dream job

Financial concerns

Mice!

Hard days with a struggling child

Facing bad habits and thought patterns that feel impossible to change

HAPPIEST:

Outerbanks and its wild horses

Less shame, more grace

Finding Jazz

Make Over Your Mornings course with Brit

The opportunity to share my writing and interview for a job

Feeling a healthy and happy attachment in a relationship that started off tough

Jesse and Abbey's wedding

Morning walks with Jazz

Cy reading and loving 1st grade

Storyline Conference with two of my dearest and best

Taking the girls to see their first theatre performance

Speaking a dream out loud and daring to put it into motion

Out of this list, I clearly identified about 10 things for this year. 10 goal-ish things. It could be said I have a tiny issue with committing. But really, I want to have some ambitions, some accomplishments to pursue, some clear points on the horizon to move toward, but allow plenty of open space for the point to move, the route to change. I don't want the guilt of unmet goals, I'm not sure any of us have time for that. I told my littlest brother a year ago at Christmas I'd run a 5K with him last year. Guess what's on my list for this year? Run a 5K with Landon. I didn't know what all last year would hold. I don't know what this year holds. In stead of beating myself up over last year, I'm putting it down on this year's agenda and going to see if I can get us registered for a spring run.

I have weekly walks with Jazz on my list. There will be weeks it won't happen, because of weather or travel or health or attitude. But I've identified it as something that revitalizes my body and soul, so I'm setting a manageable ambition. Maybe I'll go more often, maybe less. Having it written is a good reminder to do something I love.

I have a few vague ones too, just like all the pro goal-setters say to exactly not do. For example: Give More Hugs. I don't know when, or how many. Frankly, a formula for hugs wouldn't move me closer to the point I'm wanting the "more hugs" goal to propel me towards, which is to take life a little less seriously, give love and affection a little more freely. I read an article on hugs recently, and realized it's something I don't do much (personal space is my specialty), but I concluded it's a very affordable, VERY simple way to initiate more warmth, more felt safety, more acceptance and more unconditional love in my family. Instead of focusing on trying to change all the things I don't like (take everything too serious, lecture too much, etc.), it's a way to focus on implementing a good habit. I love what Allison says in her post Why Setting Goals Often Doesn't Work.

We move in the direction that we’re pointed, so why not point ourselves toward what we want to invite into our lives, rather than what we’re trying to get rid of?...[Y]ou can’t simply get rid of a bad habit. You really have to replace it with a better one.

I have a few other important things on the list as well, better habits I'd like to cultivate in my marriage, in prayer time, in loving my family this year. There are a few dreams I'm chasing too, ambitions that seem so crazy and nigh unto impossible I'm scared to even see them in writing, let alone share them here (yet). Writing these things down, the hopes and ambitions and desires for change, can feel vulnerable. It can be an act of faith, really. We know where we want to go, but we don't know for sure how to get there, what all may lie in the path, and what detours or total re-routes may come up. I'm hanging my list beside a few other prayers I have written, because for me it's more of a prayer than a plan. I hope it will remind me to get up and live this one wild and precious life.  I hope I can see it as an invitation I'm both giving and receiving; I'm invited to show up and bring the ink to this story that is my life, and I'm inviting God to turn the pages and guide the pen.

What practice do you find meaningful at the fresh start of a year? What's on your list?

Christmas Asthma-When You Need To Stick Your Head in the Freezer

I’ve been really getting on my own nerves this Christmas season. I have this constant urge to run and hide. It’s weird really, considering how much I love Christmas; the lights and candles, the Kenny G Christmas station, the smell of pine from the tree, the shopping and gifts and family time. But it’s become an increasingly tedious season, especially since motherhood, and this year I feel constantly short of breath. In part because: asthma. But there’s a gasping even the inhaler can’t seem to clear.

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Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

The trickiest part for me is all the gatherings. I am growing more weasely about them each year. I get so cringy about all the small talk with distantly known relatives, I could cry. No, actually I do cry. It’s not that I don’t like these people. I (mostly) REALLY do. But there are so many of them all in one place, and so many questions that I can either answer politely or honestly, but not both. I’m no good at motherhood chitchat. I’m not going into adoption chitchat. I worry our family is a display, that the girls will feel they are treated as interesting artifacts to be admired, rather than the thinking, feeling humans they are. I get crazy tired before I’m even inside, and can feel myself vacillating between artificial enthusiasm about gingerbread houses and distant, short responses that likely get some raised eyebrows and whispered wonderings about my well-doing. I’ll clear it up for everyone, there are indeed some problems upstairs, but mostly I just don’t do gatherings well.

All of our extended family gatherings have out grown our Grandparents’ homes. This means a little more space, but it also means a little colder and a little lonelier. Without the sentimentality of my grandma’s kitchen and the chimes of Grandpa’s clock, it feels even more disconnected. It also means a new building with a passel of kids scattering hither and yon. Call it over-protectiveness or OCD, I can take it, (or rather, already have it), but I’m not super chill about sending my girls off in a new building with a clan of kids and not seeing them again until bedtime. I used to quietly disappear for a few hours after lunch; sometimes to the car where I’d stashed a book, sometimes to go home and “check on things” for a while (my bed needs a surprising amount of supervision), sometimes to take a walk or hide out in my Grandpa’s study. But now I need to remain present. And while I’m present, I also get to exercise swallowing my pride when one of my attendees has a moment that is beyond what I’m willing to explain to on-lookers, and proceeds to sit huffing and scowling, with occasional body flops on the table. I get to figure out how to either facilitate a nap in a strange building with endless interruptions, or attempt to pave the smoothest possible path for a 3 year old going napless, a delicate condition that can turn rabid on a surprisingly small grievance.

I told God if we were to have any illnesses in our future, I would be ok with pink eye hitting the week before Christmas. It was the most harmless contagious disease I could think of that would keep me home-bound. Then my mom reminded me of how hard it was to get rid of, all the mattering and oozing and free flowing germs and stuff. So I took it back.

I’m living these squirmy feelings to the fullest this year. This week, actually. I don’t have a How I Learned to Love Big-Gathering Small Talk eBook to offer. I’m just giving all of us wheezers permission to use an inhaler. Albuterol is good, but it doesn’t seem to reach the soul, so I’m taking some notes of what does help clear soul congestion.

For me, it starts with less. My decorations are minimal this year, and I actually love it. The few bursts of added greenery and lights are easier to notice with less clutter. I’m not committing to any fancy baking. I ordered about half the number of Christmas cards I usually do. I’ve turned down events, some I really wanted to attend and some I was glad to see go. With the declines went additional obligations that would have accompanied them. Learning how to gracefully say no is a muscle I’m shakily trying to build.

“You can set your own odometer. Whatever takes you further away from Jesus and love and generosity and goodwill, shelve it. The earth will not spin off its axis and you will not retroactively prevent the birth of Baby Jesus. Be healthy, be merry, and may this season be wondrous all over again, because unto us a child was born.”              Jen Hatmaker

The math of a well-chosen “no” is that it always adds up to a sum of more space for a yes. This year, our space has been dedicated to a few special events and opportunities to engage with the community. Advent reading is at the top of the "best yes" list this season. It’s harder than I can even understand to get reading in every night. The first week of advent I was already counting up how many days we were behind. And I got frazzled and frustrated until I stopped and smacked myself back to reality. The girls have no clue that we’re behind. I have serious doubts that Jesus has an eye on the calendar and an eyebrow raised at us. As if he’s going to catch us still reading in January and say “Enough with this belated birthday talk!” The time frame we put on celebrating God With Us is ridiculous. I can’t recommend Unwrapping the Greatest Gift highly enough. Ann Voscamp works her wonder in the words, and the stories move me to worship every time. You can find the book we read here. If you don’t have a good book your family is reading right now, order it and read it into January. It’s incredible. We all look forward to sitting the light of the tree and reading together. It’s a longer chapter than what we normally read at bedtime, and it’s good. More is good when it comes to reading.

And the most important part of getting some oxygen to the soul? Finding a way to escape whatever is suffocating, be it crowds, shopping lists, small talk, kitchen chaos, family drama, or the budget, and find some quiet. Some stillness, some fresh air that goes beyond the lungs and revives the mind and heart as well. Someone told me once that a quick remedy for an asthma attack was sticking your head in the freezer and inhaling the dry, frigid air. While I can’t say it’s ever done much for me, I’ve certainly tried it a few days that were thick with humid allergy air. If your air gets thick, find a freezer, and take a moment to go stick you head in it. For me, this looks like sitting at my desk most mornings and writing down some words by the light of my candle. It looks like walking the path along the woods and listening to winter bird songs and the rustling of grass under my dog’s feet. It looks like hiding out in the bathroom and getting lost in the plot of an audio book for a few minutes. It looks like pre-arranging with my extrovert husband for the girls and I to leave a gathering early, or for me to slip out and take a short nap or drive while the rest are busy playing games. For you it might look like 15 minutes in your favorite book while you sit in the school pick up line or a cup of hot tea after the kids are tucked in bed. Maybe it looks like saying no to an event altogether and finding another time or way to reconnect with those people. It definitely looks like honest conversations and compromise with our more-the-merrier socializers. Nobody is wrong in this equation, just different personalities with different needs.

I’m looking forward to catching up with my dearly loved cousins this weekend. Giving Grandma a hug, kissing a new baby I haven’t yet met, and laughing loud at some endlessly ornery uncles. And I have some exit plans in place, some breathing treatments to use as needed. For all of you emotionally short-of-breath friends, find your inhaler and use it liberally. Here’s to a Christmas of quiet moments trumping chaos. We can’t be messengers for the Prince of Peace, peace for our family or nation or world, if there isn’t first peace in us.

Let there be peace on earth And let it begin with me. Let there be peace on earth The peace that was meant to be. (Peace On Earth)

When Your Head Holds You Hostage

You know those days when you've watched just one too many Jimmy Fallon YouTube videos? Or spent one too many minutes researching the different types of sweat bees? No? Well then, lucky for you in escaping the dreaded brain rot, but I must confess it leaves me to wonder, is all that ambition and list crossing off really worth missing The Tonight Show Hashtags? And can you really feel good about not knowing how to identify which sweat bees are the stinging kind? Some days it's like just a little too much of the reading or the watching or the listening or the pondering happens, and suddenly, there's no snapping back to reality. I call it stuck in my own head. I tend to go around the house with a blank look while an inner voice in an annoying monotone says "You're so stuck in your own head. You're giving yourself claustrophobia. Get out of your own head." The speaker is painfully redundant, and really not helpful.

Today I fogged over by draining one too many sunny Saturday minutes into a video series. Educational as it was, I gorged and stood up feeling fat and lazy. Too much information, even good information, is like too much good food, suddenly switching from an energy source to a sluggish slow down.

Any time I over-consume and under-create, my mental muscle tone diminishes and leaves me listless. It needs a balance between intake and fuel burn. This week I mentally overate. I pounded 13 chapters in a new book, listened to as many chapters in a different audio book, and took 8 pages of notes from an online video course.

Harvest tends to drive me to over-consume in all departments. My general lack of interest in shopping is suddenly interrupted by a variety of "impossible to pass up" deals on fall tops and boots. (This is partly because my body is intuitively aware of the sinking temperatures, and being convinced that it was never meant to experience temperatures under 50*, it goes into primal survival mode. Buying sweaters and boots is simply my body's way of trying to store up warmth for winter. It's truly instinctual, Dave. It just wants to live to see another Spring, bless its heart.) Kitchen passes to the chocolate and cereal areas happen in much higher frequency. And I start pawing through all available books and reading material. The urge to pass the time, to fill the void of limited adult human contact, to drown out the loneliness, is high during harvest. But bingeing can happen in any season, with the right combination of boredom, avoidance, or lack of vision.

It seems like in all areas of life we get off kilter when we are only consumers and not creators. Really, is it any surprise to find ourselves molding around the edges when all we've been doing is taking and not giving? Still, it's not easy to counter. The last thing I feel like doing while stuck in a brain funk is to create. My thoughts are anything but fresh and coherent. I'm way too full for anything to even sound or smell good anymore. And I'm convinced that whatever I do will look like a train wreck in a tunnel and then I'll feel even more miserable, so why try?

Today I tried a variety of activities in an attempt to escape the muck. I ordered boots. (Really Dave, you'll be so impressed at the good price I found on necessary protection for frostbite-scarred toes.)  I knew going for a run would help, but the helpfulness tends to be dampened when kids accompany, and I had no current alternatives. I ate plantain chips heaped with almond butter. I laid on the sunny patch of carpet hoping for a beam of vision.

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IMAG1999

I checked my room and closet repeatedly for anything shiny to capture my attention. I decided maybe eye drops would help. (Now looking back, that may have been the turning point.  Nothing feels better to the window of the soul during soybean harvest then a cool, refreshing Opcon-A drop. It may have the power to change the course of your day, even your life! [These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA].) Then I tried curling my eye-lashes. This turned out to be more of a setback. Perhaps due in part to the significant dew still residing on lashes from recent eye drop splash, the curling was unsuccessful. After a half a dozen tries, they were far more straight than when I'd started. I can only choose to be thankful for the UV protection I now have from my sun visor-like mini eye shades. Eventually, I drug my lawn chair out to where the sun was warming the walk, sat down with my laptop, and did the only other thing I knew to do; string words together to create sentences and paragraphs. And, as is always the case, it did for my brain what a heavy rain does for a stagnant pond. It washed the scum off the top and made everything clearer.

If you're one of us that finds yourself entrapped in your own head from time to time, what do you do to clear the scum? Have you found creating to be the solution? If so, what do you like to create? And how do you convince yourself to get started when all your mind wants to do is suck it's thumb and rock?