Better

Last week I wrote about time, how I track it in small increments and try to capture it’s shape and meaning.  I am a marker of time watching the moon, following the seasons, counting the hours and minutes of daylight. This week is the summer solstice, the turning of the earth. This week we mark the longest days this year will see. We begin the turning of Earth towards dark and cool and rest.

This week also marks three months since…well, since things got better.

It feels strange to say it that way. The last time we were involuntarily ousted from a place of worship, it seemed a more catastrophic event had never happened to us. This time, we only feel peace. Peace and release and the most amazing sense of freedom.

I’ve observed time for many reasons: birthdays and cancerversaries, weddings and funerals, travels and trials, events good and bad and those simply unimaginable. I try to take note of the events which change and shape me, even years later, watching for growth and change, noting scars and swimming in grace.

The day I left professional church, whether only for now or for good, is the day my life began turning for the better. The same way the earth tilts to the sun, the way a sunflower tracks the path of light across the sky, my soul is turning to the warmth and light of growing into my nature.

We, my family and I, are getting better. Healing. We are remembering who we were before we crammed our souls into shapes they weren’t created to hold. I tried to uphold a way of thinking and living which directly contradicted the contours of my heart, growing stunted and brittle. I didn’t begin in this distorted form, but as I grew and changed my environment didn’t. I withered and stunted like a flower left too long under a blazing and relentless summer sky.

Life has turned, and our parched, weary souls are remembering what it means to rest and find water in unexpected places.  We find ourselves with new relationships and shifting communities whose gentle presence asks no more of us than to be exactly who we are. Mother God can handle the rest, and all will be well.

While I’ve been at odds with the Bible lately, I find myself leaning into the Message translation in moments when I do reflect on a book I hope to connect with again some day.  Today, I am meditating on these words:

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.

‘Get away with me and you’ll recover your life.’ This is a promise I can rest in for awhile.

It is the time of turning seasons, and we are better for it and in it.

 

 

Creative tension: a call and response to living in the unexpected

You know what would be fun to write about? How to have it all together. I’d like to write about that because it would mean I am on a journey in that general direction. It would feel as though I am beginning to figure some things out.

But, no.

Last week was a nutso butter and crazy sandwich.  I worked weird and wild hours, tried to maintain a low-level walk/run routine, wrote hardly at all, didn’t read as much as I wanted to, didn’t log my hours regularly and generally don’t feel as though I accomplished very much. Oh, and my husband started a brand new career, at 46. As you do.

But I did survive, and that’s saying something.

Amongst other things this new career means the nice self-centered existence I have been living since starting my own brand new career at age 45 – yes, I do feel one-upped – is about to be flipped on its ear. Friends, I haven’t made dinner since March. MARCH. I’ve barely done laundry, cleaned house, or handled any of the transportation issues faced by a 3 car,  5 adult family. While I re-learned what it’s like to be a professional person in a professional world, my husband took care of the domestic details of life. All of them. This is a definite advantage of him leaving his career the day mine launched (it’s also a super-cool story which I will share another time).

But isn’t this always how life is?

Life. Love it or hate it, her favorite pitch is the curve.  Sure it’s nice to go along knowing what’s next, knowing how it will all work out, knowing exactly what’s for dinner and that all the ingredients will be there and someone else is cooking them and all you have to do is show up. I like that, too. In fact, I love the predictability of routine. I love always having clean laundry.

But to expect that life will always flow towards the smoothest path is to set ourselves up for constant and profound disappointment. I have often commiserated with moms of the little guys that just as soon you develop a nice schedule, there’s a growth spurt, or a developmental leap and BAM, you’re figuring things out all over again. What we often fail to realize is that this pattern isn’t exclusively for the new mom. This is the pattern of life. Just when we get things all figured out, a new piece is thrown into the pattern and we’re juggling all over again, trying to make art instead of chaos.

I actually think it’s kind of brilliantly beautiful.

See, I’m not the same person I was when I was twenty-five. I’m not even the same person I was in January.  I often don’t welcome the shifts the which generate this slow and steady evolution, but I know for a fact that it’s the unpredictable moments, and our response to them, which create the friction that changes the shape of our souls. Our souls are shapeshifters and this is a good thing. Just as a garden goes through cycles of life and death, our souls cannot maintain the abundance of a constant summer, no matter how much we may want them too. Routine and preparation have their place, but they are neither the source of growth nor the better path.

For several years now, I have struggled with anxiety. I used to think it was because I was afraid of the unknown. but my anxiety wasn’t caused by unknown patterns, it was the known which had me freezing up and freaking out. Known patterns which I felt I could not escape left me unable to take another step. Yes, the unknown is frightening, but sometimes it’s the learned patterns of existence which damage us far more.  Yet we stay because the routine is familiar. We know the steps, the roles, and the rules, even if they are slowly killing us.

By the way, I also haven’t had an anxiety attack since March, and I don’t think it’s just about the dinners.

I still love routines and I do often wish I had a peek into life a bit further ahead than, say, Wednesday.  But if that were the case, I would lose all the creative effort I put into every day, deciding who I will be, where I will find beauty and joy. These ways of responding shape my soul into something unique and lovely, something routine and answers never will. Routine is safe and comforting, a necessary element of life, but it’s when we’re off the map that we learn who we really are, and where we learn the skills to become someone different if we don’t like who we find.

So I hope to run and read and write and work in ways that are a bit less crazy this week. But I’m also really looking forward to enjoying those unexpected encounters, the surprise belly laughs, and the sheer pleasure of not knowing exactly what’s next but knowing whatever it is, all will be well.

 

How to make friends with Time

I’m a big proponent of self-examination. Honestly, that’s pretty much a guaranteed part of the introvert package. We’re introspective all the way down to our genetic code. It’s a great asset and also sometimes my worst enemy. But personality tendencies aside, I believe in seasonal life-examination. It’s humbling, for sure (I am forever fretting about how much time I “waste” and working on shifting that mindset), but it also helps me re-focus and re-direct when I begin to drift aimlessly, which I am wont to do.

My natural daily inclination is to relax to the point of laziness despite the fact that I find that an unsatisfying lifestyle over longer periods of time. It’s taken me forty-five years to fully accept and act on the fact that “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” I actually thrive on ticking off accomplishments and completing projects, two things which never happen accidentally.  There’s obvious tension between daily-me and long-term-me in light of these two facts.

Recently, I’ve been following Laura Vanderkam’s advice (as an aside – her new book Off the Clock is very enjoyable and not at all a ‘how to be more productive’ manual.  Thoughts on the nature and theory of time and how to make life more meaningful? Yes, please! ) by keeping a log of my hourly activities. Sometimes, it is as tedious as it sounds. But more often, it helps me to realistically understand the ways I spend and, yes, waste my time.

For instance, in May, I read fourteen books, averaging around 300 pages apiece. Granted, I  read ridiculously fast, not to me but in comparison to others. This isn’t something I feel competitive about as in ‘My Reading Speed can Beat up Your Reading Speed’, it’s simply something I’ve come to realize over time as I talk to other readers, but I digress. I also worked forty hours a week, hosted a family gathering weekend, graduated two children, traveled to Kansas City for three days and watched the first season of Lost in Space on Netflix ( SO GOOD!). Yes, I also slept a decent number of hours each night and wasted time in various ways online.

By tracking my time, I’m finding little windows of opportunity to finish more books than I believed, and what other people assured me, were possible each week. Reading is important to me. It’s not only a big part of my job, it’s how I learn, relax, relate and enjoy myself. I’m never going to be productive every moment of the day, a ridiculous goal to set for anyone, but knowing I am making time for the things that matter to my well-being, means those hours where I write ‘scrolling’ or ‘puttering’ in my log no longer lend as much volume to my inner-critic. You know the jerk I’m talking about? The voice who tells you all the things you’re doing wrong and all the ways you’ll never be enough? That voice. For me, words on paper – or on my computer screen as it were – do a great job of refuting his nonsense.

As we celebrated my birthday this year, my youngest daughter said, ‘Whoo-hoo! Half-way to fifty!’  Which caused my oldest daughter to retort, ‘Nope! Half-way to ninety!’ And truly for a moment, my brain said, ‘Oh shit; she’s right! I AM halfway to ninety!’ Age jokes aside, we’re right in the middle of many major transitions right now, not just mid-life realizations. It seems the perfect time to consider, re-create and re-imagine the kind of life we want. I want to use my time wisely and also enjoy as much as I possibly can. I want to know where the hours have gone because the inner critic plays dirty using shame and lies.  I want to experience as much as I can of the things that matter most, not putting everything off to a more convenient, more perfect time.

Being half-way to ninety doesn’t bother me. When I was a half-way to forty-five, I had cancer and turning forty seemed an impossible goal.  And yet the hours and days and weeks and years rolled by. Some of it I remember vividly, a lot of it is gone, whether wasted or well-used. Time is like that for all of us. But now that the pace of early motherhood is long gone, now that a job I love lays claim to forty hours of every week, I need to see that I’m not still waiting for a ‘better time’ to make time for what I want.

The better time is now. We’re as financially independent as we’ve ever been. We’re starting new journeys which we hope will be our last in the professional field (early retirement, we’re looking at you!). We have trips to make and places to experience. Books to read and relationships to cultivate. None of these things happen when I’m simply sitting in the hammock – though I make plenty of time for that as well.

How are you spending your time and what would you like to change?

What are you waiting for?

 

Weekend Reads, Ep. 1

I’ve long aspired to be a regular book reviewer.  I’ve also started and stopped on more than one occasion. But I also know all the cliches about starting over, falling off the horse, and if at first you don’t succeed… you know the rest. So at the risk of beating a dead horse – once I start the cliches, I can’t stop – I’m starting again with some weekly suggestions of books I love.

New Releases:  

I received these advance reader copies from Net Galley for a fair review:

this could change everythingThis Could Change Everything.  I’m torn on what to say about this book. On the one hand, it tends towards formulaic and predictable. On the other hand, it has some really fun characters, a great underlying theme and even its predictability couldn’t stop me from rooting for the happy ending. So what I’m landing on is this: sometimes I watch an action flick because it’s familiar and fun, not because it will win Oscars. And sometimes, I read a book, because it’s familiar and fun, not because I expect it to win a Pulitzer. There’s nothing wrong with writing for a certain niche and hitting the mark perfectly, and that’s what Jill Mansell has done here. It’s a fun, flirty, predictable rom-com that makes you feel good, has a ton of enjoyable and well-rounded characters and guarantees a happy ending. Ain’t nothing wrong with that, if it’s the mood you need to hit.

Us Against YouUs Against You. Last year, Beartown became one of my all-time favorite books. This development, honestly, shocked me since I am not a sports-er. This year Backman does it again with Us Against You, a book about people, motives, relationships, brothers, enemies, love, survival…and oh yeah, hockey. I am fascinated by Backman’s ability to take any character and show the spaces between the actions and the words, to make things a little less black and white. People are not good, or bad, they are people. They make choices and do things because of the million moments that came before this one. Each one of us is only a step or two from greatness or disaster. And love, love, love weaves through it all – through the grief, through the pride, through the pain. We are the bears. The bears of Beartown.

when life gives you lululemons

When Life Gives you Lululemons. Should I feel guilty about enjoying a book that is the moral equivalent of reading the National Enquirer while watching the Maury Povich show? Maybe I should, but I don’t. This book is laugh out loud clever, scandalous, sharp, and just flat out fun. It’s not groundbreaking or illuminating, it’s what you read in the bath with a glass of wine after a long day, or on the beach while trying to forget your own problems and issues. It’s a make-believe gossip-fest with girls you can’t quite believe you are actually hanging out with. I enjoyed it immensely, right down to the predictable, yet still satisfying ending.

I warn you, you’ll learn more about cosmetic surgery than you ever wanted to know. But if you don’t laugh so hard you’ll nearly wet your pants (there’s a procedure for that), then you’re taking this book too seriously.

On shelves now.

I’m lucky enough to have unlimited access to my library shelves. Here’s what I read straight off my library’s new release shelves, and you can too.

educatedEducated: A Memoir. There are times when you finish a book and you know the visceral reaction will likely never leave you. Tara Westover’s story is one of extreme fundamentalism, abuse, ignorance, and poverty. It is also a story of immense courage, incredible forgiveness, heartbreaking self-awareness and nearly unbearable sacrifice. What did it cost her to be educated? Nearly everything. It also likely saved her life. Once I started this book, I could hardly make myself put it down, so badly did I want to see her escape and achieve wholeness. The echoes of fundamentalism resonated with my own unlike and yet occasionally similar experience so that I sometimes had to stop reading and breathe in order not to fall into panic. Tara’s writing is so clear, gorgeous and unrelenting, even a lesser story would have captivated me, but her story, her real-life story is nearly beyond imagining.

My one caveat to this is how filled it is with triggers for those who have suffered emotional, physical or spiritual abuse. Be aware there are no soft edges to this narrative, and yet to soften even a moment of it would be to coat it in a lie. Tara Westover is done lying in order to normalize the actions and effects of abuse.

From the Stacks

I don’t just read new releases. There are plenty of books that have been sitting on my to-read book for years. Here are a couple that were worth the wait.

devil wears pradaThe Devil Wears Prada. I’ll be honest, this isn’t a book I ever really expected to read. But I have the opportunity to read the third installment in the series as an ARC and I can NOT read the third book in a series first. But, despite my total ignorance and perhaps a bit of disdain for the haute couture culture, I did really enjoy this story. Alex is a likable and endearing protagonist and Miranda, of course, is the ultimate antagonist. There isn’t anything groundbreaking or provocative in this book, it’s just a well-written story with good, complex characters and an ending that doesn’t rely on tropes.

PS The kindle edition is $1.99 today.

 

 

Hello Georgia: thoughts on change and happiness

In 2017, my family set its sights on leaving Georgia. We had an idea of how we wanted life to look, but we weren’t terribly particular about where the difference took place. I was of the mindset ‘anywhere-but-here’ and Hunky was of  the mindset ‘wherever-will-take-me.’  We tried California, Nebraska, Virginia, Michigan, Wisconsin and even Canada, to name just a few. Our attempts were met with varying degrees of interest, but we never made a love connection.

The funny thing is, even though we cast a wide net, we had a very narrow window. We believed that there was one path for us to take, and only that path, that calling was our vehicle to the life we wanted. We had a plan, a map, and we were set to follow it to the end of the journey.

Then in September, I began working at our local public library. It was just a part-time gig, to begin with, a few hours a week since my kids are grown and in college, a way to re-enter the wider world since we didn’t know what would come next…when we left Georgia.

However, my job didn’t go the way I planned. It wasn’t just something I enjoyed or was good at – though it is those things – it awakened something in me that I didn’t even know was there: a deep and abiding love, not only for the work I was doing but for the place I was doing it. For the first time in ten years, I felt anchored to a place almost as deeply as I felt anchored to a lifestyle or a belief system.

This caused a bit of tension with our leaving plan.

But we pushed forward anyway because our window, our vision, was still too small to see any possibility of finding happiness in this place while maintaining our lifestyle. Even though things got harder, and heavier, nearly unbearable, in some ways, I was thriving in my new job. Its voice was louder than the other voices taking inventory of my shortcomings, my wrong beliefs, feelings and ideas, and demanding conformity.  In a storm of uncertainty about the future, my job was a life raft, keeping me afloat which in turn helped to keep us all afloat.

We weren’t willing to quit, but we were also unable to let go of our plan. So we floundered and flailed, unable to find happiness in a life that no longer fit.

Have you ever known anyone who lost a lot of weight, maybe yourself, even? For a while, everything fits as it should and then things get a little loose, so you tighten your belt one notch, and then another. Your clothes flap around you but you wait, because even though things don’t fit, you know you aren’t done changing. Anything you buy now will probably be discarded too soon to make them worth the money and effort. But one day, you wake up, and there is just no wearing anything, not one thing, you had before, no matter how much you loved it at one time. You can’t keep wearing the same clothes. You must find something new.

By February, that’s where we were, absolute crisis, jumping through hoops like circus performers in order to hang on to what we had until the door magically opened for us to step through – to step out of Georgia.

Which is why we never paid much attention to the escape hatch we were already standing on. When it finally opened beneath us, we were momentarily startled, but not really surprised. In fact, after the initial shock, we were overwhelmed with relief. It’s as though someone handed us a treasure and said, “Here, I found this. It was already with your things. So it’s yours.” Georgia was still for us, still on our map. It was ministry we had to release.

I won’t lie, my prayers to leave Georgia balanced equally with my prayer to just not be part of church leadership anymore. This was my dirty little secret. I didn’t just want to leave a place. I wanted to leave a mindset, a doctrine, a behavior pattern, an environment that was toxic to me. The things which fit, no longer fit. The ways of thinking were no longer my ways. But the space to be different in any way did not exist. I felt trapped. The clothes weren’t too big, but far, far too small and all my imperfections were spilling out for everyone to see.

I wonder now, in hindsight, what might have been different if we’d had the courage or the bravado to widen our vision, to believe there is more than one right path to take, that calling evolves and changes, and that who we are isn’t defined by our station. In my head, I know these things, but I didn’t live them. They weren’t my practice.

It’s June now, and as for Georgia, we’re all in. The shock of leaving church didn’t upend and send us tumbling across the wilderness. Rather, it forced us to push roots down deeper, to strengthen and grow quickly. I think we may even begin blooming soon.  Our narrow window closed completely. Instead, God ripped the ceiling off and said, “Here, take a look at this sky. Better yet, step outside those walls and start really living out here in the world. It’s a place I’m especially fond of.”

Funny, it’s a place I’m especially fond of now, too.  Finally.

 

5 things I learned in May

I haven’t found the words yet to convey how huge and all-encompassing the changes in my life over the last two months feel every day. I’m still joyfully learning to navigate my way through this new landscape of full-time work for me, leaving ministry for Craig and graduating college and high school for 2/3 of my children My lovely middle child is once again in the middle of both these events and completely unphased by all the hullabaloo. She’s amazing.

I suppose I could wait for things to smooth out a bit more, to have my schedule better in hand and feel more put together and less in recovery mode to make try to put together a new space, but why wait? If I want to be a more mindful person and more prolific writer, the time to start is right now, and so I shall. I’m joining in with Emily Freeman in sharing what I learned in May.

Although I am an introvert, balancing my personality with a job I am passionate about means I am filled as quickly as I am depleted.

This has been an important discovery as I transition into full-time work. Most days I come home pleasantly (or completely, depending on the week) worn out, but I seldom feel unready to face another day at work. Working in the reference area of the library means tons of face-to-face interaction with all kinds of people: the public, my co-workers, contractors, school kids, parents, people in a hurry, people with no computer skills whatsoever.  Each encounter is entirely unique, and there is no blueprint for any of the interactions. Normally, this is a nightmare scenario for someone like me, but I find myself thriving in the challenges and opportunities each day present.  I also learned that I do suffer if I don’t put the brakes on the social component of my life during the weekend. It takes a day or two of introverting between the workplace days to really be myself again.

Kansas City is a really cool place, and visiting libraries in other towns makes me swoony.

I was fortunate this month to travel to Kansas City for a conference. Not only was it a great time with people who share my passion, but the city was so fun to hang out in! We visited the library hours before the conference started just to poke around and ended up hanging out until time to begin. The Kansas City central library is housed in a 100-year-old bank which is absolutely captivating. We explored, asked questions, and poked around from the underground vault – which is now a 28 seat public movie theater – to the fifth-floor rooftop patio and local history room. Clearly, libraries are my natural habitat. I’m not even ashamed.

It’s better to start imperfectly than to wait for the perfect moment.

In my head, I’ve known this for awhile, but in my practice, I’m still prone to procrastinate by waiting for the perfect moment to arrive. I know this stems from both my co-dependency and my perfectionism, but knowing why I do it, hasn’t made it easier to stop doing it. Growing up, I learned that doing things perfectly the first time is the best way to gain the praise I desired. These beliefs aren’t easy to unlearn in adulthood. When I am uncertain or overwhelmed, I often revert to them even though I know better. But I’m learning that a little bit of an imperfectly good thing is better than constantly waiting for the perfect moment or level of readiness. Perfection is an illusion. Starting and continuing despite flaws and imperfections is a superpower. I am learning to be my own shero.

It’s hard to be yourself when you don’t really know yourself.

I’ve been untangling this one for a few years now, but it hit home with me in a new way this month as I work at something I think I do well, and doing so without any of the labels I’ve previously worn. I don’t regret the years my identity was wrapped up in motherhood, or as Craig’s wife (which I still am, but differently). I somewhat regret other labels I have embraced and embodied believing I could make myself fit, but that’s a therapy session for another time. For long stretches of time every day, I am just me: doing what I love, working out what I want, embodying who I am. I’m fortunate to work in an environment that believes I can learn it, conceive it and orchestrate it well, and which encourages my creativity and my voice. You know what? I’m a pretty amazing person when I am not contorting like a pretzel trying to meet someone else’s ideal. I’m learning who I am as myself again, at last. This is freedom, and it’s wonderful.

45 is a great age to start again.

This month we celebrated my 45th birthday and the fact that I have now lived as long since my cancer diagnosis as before that nightmare day. These events were overshadowed – rightfully so – by the graduation of my oldest from college and my youngest from high school. Hunky and I are shifting into the ‘parents of adult children’ stage with our youngest daughter’s 18th birthday. All the babes are still here under our roof, but life is so different now than even two months ago. I’m learning new skills and concepts as fast as I can in my new career. Hunky is out of professional ministry and poised on the brink of a new path (further details aren’t quite ready to divulge yet). Everything feels fresh, new, and clean. Life is exciting and I’m finding ways to hope and dream in ways I had forgotten. I believe we can begin again at any time, every moment is new, but I’m claiming 45 as a pivotal year, one which can affect the trajectory of our lives in ways that excite me.

What lessons did May hold for you this year?