How to start every day

I’m a fan of Seth Godin. He’s a little odd but enormously brilliant. He thinks big thoughts and consistently shares what he’s thinking. It’s not just about his day, but about culture, community, marketing, communication, and personal well-being.

He shares every day and has for a very long time.

One of my goals this month was to write something worth posting twice a week. So far, I’ve managed to hit the goal but I’ve struggled with creating space to do it. Uninterrupted time is at a premium in my life right now. There simply isn’t much of it. Last night I was alone in the house for twenty glorious minutes. I can’t remember the last time that happened. It’s difficult to find the time or creativity to produce “content worth publishing”

I’m also reading a book called Atomic Habits (so practical, no really, if you are interested in habit formation it’s filled with great tools and tips) which talks about skill formation. Apparently – perhaps you know this already and I’m the last person to really get it – it isn’t producing a perfect product/result time after time that really hones our skills, it’s simply consistently practicing. The more we practice and produce, the better we get at it. Garbage product can be as beneficial as perfect product while we are still in the practicing stage.

My inner perfectionist screams and wails at this idea; she’s quite upset that I didn’t throw it out as bullshit to begin with.

Running ten miles is another one of my goals this year. It seems a lot when I look at it as TEN MILES – the finished product. So far, I haven’t run at all. But what I have done is get up every morning and do something. Whether it’s a 4-minute kettlebell workout or a 7-minute HIIT or 10 minutes of yoga, or a 20-minute walk (usually only on weekends *shakes a fist at the dark*), I just have to do something. I know when it comes time to run, I will think of reasons to skip out. I know me. It isn’t the running that’s the problem, it’s the getting out the door. So instead, I’m working on the habit that every day I have to move in some way for at least five minutes. Once the habit of starting is deeply ingrained, the habit of running will slowly follow.

Now, I’m contemplating how to implement this concept for all areas of my life. Rather than focusing so hard on the end result, I’m considering: what could be the most important first step that I can do easily and repeatedly which will allow me to build on them later?

The other day I wrote about accidentally skipping meditation, so I adjusted my parameters. There are some longer guided meditations I want to do, but for now, 5 minutes before I even leave the bed is the plan. Every day. I have to leave the bed to start the day, but I can’t leave the bed until I meditate. If I can find the space and isolation for a longer sit later, I will. 5-minutes. Everyday. First thing. Easy. I can build on that.

So why not with writing? How does that translate? To begin with, I have some things to unlearn. Most of these messages are that “all successful writers do ______” or “in order to gain the attention you desire you must _________.” Basically, I’ve got to release a lot of bullshit and just get down to business. What’s the right way to write? Make words happen. Some words. Any words. Every day. Great words and garbage words and words I can build on.

I need to stop looking over my shoulder or wondering if what I’m writing/creating/forming/learning today is better than what I wrote/created/formed/learned yesterday. It may not be. But eventually the more we do anything, the result will trend towards improvement if we’re really putting our heart into it. Eventually, I will run ten miles; I will sit and focus for twenty minutes; I will read two hundred books. But I won’t start there.

I just have to start somewhere more often than I don’t start at all. I can do that. We can all do that.

Day by Day

Someone asked me the other day about the Happiness Project. I talked about it for a few minutes, about why I paid to join a coaching system and what I hope to accomplish. Then there was a follow-up question: So how many “resolutions” do you have this year?

I don’t know. I’m taking it day by day and month by month.

In years past, I’ve launched all my initiatives at the same time. Do all the things, every day! Do them without missing a day! If you skip a day you’ve ruined everything! Friends, perfectionism ain’t no joke. She’s a terrible life coach.

In my divorce from the rules and regulations of religion, I’ve developed softer lines and fuzzier edges (not just from stress eating and Sunday morning mimosas). My inner voice is softer. I’m no longer thinking in all or nothing terms. I believe not in transformation but in evolution.

This year will bring changes, some of which I will plan, but many of which I will not.

These changes will not all happen at once, but they will happen.

I will hold space to welcome the unknown and the unexpected.

For January, I have four foundational habits I am forming:

  • Pause morning and evening – these are moments of planning, meditation, and evaluation. Sometimes I journal, but if I’m tired or in a hurry, simply a moment or two will recenter and redirect me on the path I intended for the day, or create space for a new intention. Yep, I’ll change a whole plan mid-day if unforeseen events require it, and call it a win when I adapt rather than resist.
  • Keep a bullet journal – I’ve planned and failed at this more often than I care to admit. But my pausing habit facilitates my bujo habit. I’m experiencing more success by pairing the habits and more happiness by tracking, recording and remembering things by keeping them all in one place. And it’s pretty yellow, which makes me smile each time I pick it up.
  • Plan Dinner – This habit pairs with my bujo. I don’t know about you, but when I know what’s for dinner on a daily basis, we eat better and shop better. Also, it cuts down on cranky late afternoon texts with my Hunky demanding a dinner plan. We are both more inclined to cook rather than eating cereal when we know what is prepped and available. Eventually I want to plan out a couple weeks or even a month at a time, but for now, I plan dinner down one side of my bujo page and the groceries required on the other. In a month or so, this will make grocery lists so much easier and that will also make me happier.
  • Move – I do have some physical goals this year that will involve more specific and intense habits, but those habits aren’t for this month which is already pretty full. Instead, I just need to get my ass out of bed, off the couch and away from the desk chair. I follow a 7-minute HIIT many mornings or a 4-minute kettlebell routine. I step out for a 4 o’clock walk, take the stairs, park farther away, walk if it’s under 5 minutes, whatever comes to mind to make motion part of my daily experience, I do it, and I don’t think too hard about it. Good enough is good enough, right now.

Day by day these four small things are making me happier and making my life flow more smoothly. Doing them regularly may take an extra 30 – 40 minutes, but generally save me well more than that amount each day. They are investments in myself, my family and my time. They make me happier which is what the Happiness Project is all about.

For the months to come, I have some general ideas and a rough sketch of what goals will fit where, but I’m taking it day by day and month by month. Change will come whether I want it or not, the question is, will I have the tools to shape those changes or will I simply let them roll me along with them? I’m choosing my tools this year, but prepared to enjoy the rolling along for a short time, if and when it comes.

What changes are you making this year? What tools are you using?

This is the Work

On Monday of this week, we held job interviews for a couple of positions we had open at my workplace. Truth be told, I really, really love being part of a team that gives people jobs. It’s amazing. However, the day of the interviews can be long and tiring. It’s an enormous amount of social energy for me (hello, introvert) and our interview process has several steps which require set-up and recording scores and printing rubrics and just lots of little details.

And all the while, the work of the library flows around me so my train of thought is often interrupted and side tracked, which isn’t an ideal mental situation for me.

I love helping people get a job, but the process can be exhausting. Isn’t it funny how so many worthwhile things are like that, and so we avoid them? Or maybe you don’t, but I do.

Anyway, we had a bit of a mid-day break between interviews where I grabbed lunch and dropped one of my people at their job and tried to spend a little time with the dogs who aren’t loving the 5 people at school and work most days schedule after Christmas break. When I returned to the building, I began setting up for the final interview of the day, and I thought to myself, I haven’t gotten any work done today. And then my entire mental momentum came to a screeching stop.

All I had done all day was work, and work well, and work hard. I do a good job, sure I have loads still to learn but I am good at what I do. Still, I literally told myself: you haven’t done any work today because you haven’t really done anything visibly productive or which was in your wheelhouse routine. I considered this terrible message I was selling myself and I realized:

This is the work. Enjoy the process.

How often do we do this? How often are we involved in something which is large and complex with many moving pieces, which requires a great deal of energy and time and which carries some pretty serious weight but because the visible product is small or perhaps even non-existent, we think to ourselves, I have to get back to the work, the real work. We are selling ourselves a great big load of bullshit, and most of us are buying it most of the time.

I stayed home for almost twenty years to raise my ladies, and there were many days where I fell into bed exhausted and thought to myself, I didn’t get a single thing done today because I missed the point that this is the work – not the to-do list or the product, but being fully present for the most important thing at the time.

The work is not the product; the work is the process.

I’ve embarked on a pretty big project this year, Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project Experience. The point is not only to explore things which increase my happiness but to actively engage in those things and measure the result. I expect to have as many failures as successes. I expect to sometimes expend a great deal of effort with very little product other than my own personal satisfaction. I know there will be days when I think to myself, I haven’t gotten any work done today.

And hopefully when that happens I will remember that crystalline moment standing at my desk with the whole library buzzing around me and remember:

This is the work. Be present for the process.
This is the work. Don’t miss it rushing to cross off the list.
This is the work.


How do we become ourselves?

I’ve never been a very fast writer, which is why when life gets busy – which is often- I stop writing. I want everything I put out for public consumption to be lyrical and lovely and technically perfect. There’s nothing wrong with wanting anything I create in the world to be a good product, except when my standards are so high that they hinder me from doing anything in the first place.

I occasionally say I am a writer, but I’m not consistent in the practice. I also occasionally say I’m a runner but I haven’t run since the fall. There’s a distinct separation between what I say I am and what I embody. I don’t think this separation is a deliberate form of disinformation; I’m not trying to make myself look better. I think it’s more a form of self-deception – projecting who I want to be on who I really am today.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot along with my word for the year: embody. It’s one thing to say I am something, it’s another thing to embody it. One is a form of self-deception and one is a way of becoming.

Look, even when I am running, I’m not winning any prizes. I’m slow and awkward and usually very red in the face, but if my feet are moving, I am a runner. There are no other qualifications. In fact, one of my favorite things about the running community is how fervently they promote the message: if you are moving, you’re a runner.

But I’m funnier about writing. Perhaps its because I love books so much. People who create those chapters and stories, those people are writers. Me? I’m just me, occasionally playing with words.

Which begs the question: at what point am I writer? Is it when I get published? I’ve been published. Is it when I make it big? Make a career of it? Go on tour? If these are my criteria then I’m also not a runner because I’ve never won a single medal (nor do I expect to) and I will never make a career of it. Why am ok with calling myself a runner (when I run), but not a writer?

It’s an interesting question isn’t it?

At what point do we give ourselves permission to be the person we want to be whether or not the world recognizes it? My husband left professional ministry nine months ago but he still calls himself a pastor because he embodies the traits which make a person pastoral: he loves people and cares for their well-being and they know it. It doesn’t require any form of public recognition or permission for him to be this thing.

I’m definitely one who gets tripped up in if/then thinking. If this thing happens, then I will be ________ (happy, a writer, able to lose weight, good enough, insert your own if/then statement here.) We seek outer validation to apply an inner identity rather than simply becoming that person because she’s the person we envision for ourselves. We make ourselves crazy trying to become someone we already are.

So I’m making myself a promise this week to write more and doubt less. To believe that it’s enough to put words on paper (or on screen as the case may be) whether or not they are perfect or poetic or worthy of national acclaim. A writer writes and I can believe in myself enough to do exactly that thing without needing perfection or outer validation.

It’s a new year – who do you say you are in it? Are you waiting for some form of validation before you embody that person? Do you need permission to become the person you always believed you could be? Don’t be afraid to take that first step and keep taking them one at a time. The Universe is waiting, and She applauds you.

Embody

In November, I wrote about how 2018 was a year without a name. The concept of a word or theme for the year is fairly widespread (go ahead, google it if you need more information.), and I have taken part in the concept for years. Maybe you think it’s hokey or gimmicky, which is fine, your word for the year can be ‘cranky-pants’, but for me, it’s a deeply spiritual experience.

I listened for this year’s word for a long time. I knew it wouldn’t be anything related to church culture. I knew I wanted it to be self-centered (not in a selfish way, but in continuing to focus on self-love, self-healing, a generative and growing word.) I knew it needed to be feminine and empowering, fully accepting of where I am while allowing me to develop bigger dreams, bigger ideals, and bigger love.

One of the foundational tenets of most Christian theology centers on the depravity of humankind. We don’t just do bad things; we are bad, born inherently broken and unworthy of Love. To be indoctrinated with this message is to learn to hate your self. Hating your words and your actions is bad enough, but it can teach you to hate your very flesh. If you’re also a woman? Forget about it. You ate the fruit; you caused the fall, and the patriarchy has reminded you of it ever since. You are doubly damned.

I’ve lived this reality for a long time, even when I stopped believing it, I couldn’t escape a culture that was steeped in it. Breaking free of this destructive and decidedly unloving doctrine has been like picking sand out of jello. Just when you think you’ve removed it all, you find a little more crunching between your teeth. Believing this body I inhabit is inherently divine and capable of producing beautiful and miraculous things is a conscious act of will every day.

For a long time, I thought my word would be ‘Goddess’ honoring the process of coming to know the Divine Feminine. But ultimately, this word still places the emphasis outside my actual body, an outside being or force who acts upon me, which I think is a disempowering view of Divine Love.

Embody is a word which cannot be divided from the messy muscle, blood, and bone of humanity. It is flesh-bound even as it leaves the lips. And yet it is also deeply entwined with the spiritual. As we think in our hearts, so will our body behave. We will embody that which we believe, understand and feel, and we will be affected mentally and emotionally by what our bodies encounter, and how they perform. We are bound together, flesh and soul.

The Gospel of John begins with a beautiful poem: The Word became flesh and lived with us.

I often think of Jesus, His never-ending welcome to those who were considered outside the love of God and man, unworthy and dirty, wounded in body and soul. Religious men hated him for his welcoming spirit, his work of unbiased love and healing. People flocked to his touch and his message of invitation: All who are weary and heavy laden, come… Bring your wounds and your loneliness and receive restoration. Remember you are loved. You always have been.

Fundamentalism has lost this message somewhere in it’s striving to attain what it’s had all along: worthiness and welcome. I hope being embodied will remind me that this body, with its scars, its unshapely bulges, its stretch marks, and failures is that I have always been divinely inhabited by an overwhelming Love, perhaps wandering, but never lost. This humanity cannot be separated from Divinity any more than I can separate my soul from my skin and still exist.

Whatever it is I wish to see in the world, I must first be in the world. This one is perhaps the hardest for me. It is much easier to accept love than to be it, but the two are also impossible to separate. The more open we are to love in the world, the more readily we lavish it on others. Love isn’t merely what we feel or say (if I had a dollar for every time I heard my abuse was enacted “out of love” last year…), it’s what we birth from our bodies in the way we make caress the world as we move through it.

2019 will be a year in which I become what I believe, and so I must curiously explore and wisely choose who and what influences me, and I will practice creative love for myself, for humanity and for the earth.

Embody.

Beyond Belief

So here we are, at the dawn of a new year. I’ve thought quite a bit about this writing space during the waning days of 2018. I’ve considered its presence and its purpose, how I have used my voice and how I want to use it moving forward. I even considered how I felt about having shared my experience in so public a forum, knowing what people are saying about the things I write and the person they assume I have become.

Vulnerability isn’t easy at any time, but least of all when it questions the most basic tenets of foundational belief systems.

2019 is a brand new page to write upon. I have considered whether I want to keep sharing the story of my experience with fundamental theology, and why I understand now that unless it evolves into wider, more open space, it will continue to devolve into more rigid and abusive means of expression. Unfortunately, when the stakes are the eternal damnation of your soul, questions and doubts are singularly dangerous. Slippery slopes end only in lakes of fire.

I can do nothing to change the path I’ve already walked. I can’t retrieve the years I lost to narrow-minded concepts and “loving” with an agenda. But I do know I am in good company where regrets are concerned. We’ve all gathered a fair collection, and now it’s our decision how far we carry them, and what lessons we will take when we lay them down.

For me, I’m still working it all out: faith, wholeheartedness, emotional health, relationships, kindness, empathy, loving humanity. It’s hard work interspersed with tremendous beauty and glorious belly laughs. I want to end my days feeling I have lived them well, not that I have lost myself in the bitterness of what has passed.

And yet, there is an empty space which demands the voices of those who have been down the slippery slope and lived to tell the tale. Whether we call ourselves the Nones or the fringes, whether we are humanists or agnostics or atheists or simply none of the above, there is space for us to come together and share ourselves and our dream of a better world and kinder humanity, a space beyond belief. Whatever label you affix to its members, I believe that space is sacred, and it needs voices brave enough to stand up and say, “A shitty thing happened to me! I was changed by that thing, but I am not defined by that thing.”

I’m developing a set of personal commandments, which I am sure I will talk about more in the days to come. One of the fundamental understandings upon which I intend to live is this:

People will love me. People won’t love me. Carry on.

I won’t continue to dwell in the events leading up to and culminating our graduation from religion in 2018, but I also won’t ignore they happened, and they still happen to people who desperately need to know they aren’t alone.

It’s been over twenty years since I had cancer, yet every time I hold space for someone walking their own cancer journey, it hurts as much as it did the first day a surgeon said to me, “You have a cancer.” I have lived that moment a hundred thousand times in my mind, and will probably live it a hundred thousand more, but I can carry it and not be victim to it as long as I let it remind me how strong it made me, and the rare and strange gifts it left behind.

I can follow this same pattern with my experience of spiritual abuse. I can hold space and still live and grow and move away from the reality of it. The reality will fade, but the experience will remain, and others will need to hear it.

I intend for 2019 to be a year beyond belief, outside of the faith constructs which guided me at one time, but which eventually strangled and expelled me.

I also hope 2019 will be a year of growth, experience, and adventure. I invested in myself and joined the Happiness Project Experience (The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin is a book I have read and reread and enjoyed every time). I believe there is space for this voice too, the voice of a woman rediscovering who she is in the middle years of life, a woman embarking on a journey after the kids are raised and after a year where everything, everything changed.

So much change happened unintentionally in 2018 that it excites me to imagine how much can change when I intentionally set out to expand my life, my heart, my understanding of the world, and my love for myself, for humanity and for the earth. The possibilities are endless. There is space for that adventure and all the stories and ponderings it brings.

Thus we ring in a whole new year in this space. People will love it. People won’t love it. And that’s exactly as it should be.

When endings are Beginnings

We had a lovely Thanksgiving weekend. I didn’t leave the house for four days, and I didn’t have to cook after 2pm on Thursday. The weather was cool and slightly dreary which means hours of candles and strings twinkle lights. Over the course of the weekend, we binged the entire first season of The Amazing Mrs. Maisel – OMG why has no one urged me to watch this before?!?! I slept. A lot. Hours and hours each night, awakening long after it was already light in the morning. It was absolutely unremarkable, and yet everything I wanted it to be, especially after the emotionally charged week which came before.

We’ve already begun Christmas shopping here, but I turned my mind a bit to finishing the project. Gift giving isn’t one of my strengths, less so since I became so much more intentional with the things we acquire. But I do enjoy buying a good, useful, meaningful gift, and I love Christmas morning, so it’s worth the effort. As I pondered and searched for gifts by the light of the Christmas tree, I began to think about Decembers past, all the reasons I love the impending month even for the ways it makes me slightly melancholy.

I considered how I want to finish this very eventful year.

December has always been a magical month for me. My wedding anniversary, the birth of two of my lovely children, and of course Christmas are all contained within its days. The memory of my father’s love of the season overshadows the grief of losing him in December as well, at least, it does on most days. December marks twenty years since I last heard his throaty chuckle, a length of time which seems impossible to understand. I have lived almost as long without my father as I did with him. How can that even be?

This particular December promises to be a different kind of month for my family than we are accustomed to. The holiday season, for us, has traditionally been frantically busy, but now that we have left ministry, and especially now that my husband is back in the world of education, it turns out I will be the busiest person in our house this season, and even so, there will be more space for rest and contemplation than I have experienced in years past. We are growing into these wider spaces and finding them more generous than we had dared to hope.

It isn’t often that I find myself presented with so much opportunity for contemplation, and so I’ve decided not to let the opportunity pass. Now, more than I ever realized before, I have the power to shape the patterns of my life to match who I want to be. Perhaps that power always existed and I simply didn’t recognize it, but I see it now. Having spent the last few months really unpacking the events of this year, it’s time to leave them where they belong: in the past.

Yes, things happened, good, bad, delightful and deplorable. Some things were random caprices of the Universe and some the hurtful machinations of other humans, but here we are happier, healthier, more excited, more content and more ourselves than ever. We chose this path. It’s time to own that fact entirely – the shitty, the gritty and the I-can’t-believe-this-is-real wonderfulness of it all.

The time for unpacking is passing, and I am ready to let it go.

The time for celebration is approaching and I am ready to leap in.

This is the season I have always loved above all others, the doorway that stands between all that was and all that will be. Even as we approach the solstice, the turning of days from darkness into light, so I am turning from the years of shadow and opening myself to all the possibilities the world has to offer. I’m learning to embrace all that was because it is the only path to all I am. The fullness of me is very full indeed. It is difficult to hate anything that came before in light of what I am becoming. I cannot have one without the other; this is the paradox of living. Glennon Doyle coined the term “brutiful” to express the idea that we see the beauty in our lives more clearly because it stands against the backdrop of the brutal. We are forever destined to dance the line between the terrible and wonderful, and sometimes we fall.

Here’s to December, the closing days. Whatever this year has brought you, whatever you have purposed to happen, let’s promise to each other to end it well and fully. We close the doors which need closing, speak the words that need speaking and when we have done so, we will leave them where they lay. We are made for the present, and here is where we find our joy. There is still time to be the person we long to be before the year has passed.