2015/2016

I just needed a few weightless moments, high up in my parents' house, tucked into the garden tub next to the window. I could see the tops of trees and the soft snow floating by like a distant relative of the white fluff I'd piled high up the sides of the bath. I laid there with my eyes closed, soaking the heaviness out of my limbs. I have begun physically manifesting the stress of life over the last month or two, and a bathtub is one of those things I thought I could easily go without until it was absent from my day-to-day. I mourned the loss of this little luxury, then tried to be grateful for these moments I had in it.

My stress is not without merit, but I dwell on it to the point of ridiculousness. I wallow in it until it seems immense and impossible, like I'm battling in the toughest war ever encountered. I actually thought that, relaxing in the whirlpool of my parents' mountain home. As soon as the thought crossed my mind, the weariness somewhat drained as I had hoped, it was replaced by an overwhelming sadness for my current state--a nasty, selfish worldview. I'm a spoiled brat.

So in penance I toiled over the struggles of others around the world. I thought through 2015 and how, from the comfort of my own home, surrounded by my family, I've heard tell of hunger and murder and displacement and discord. I tried to imagine a woman, perhaps just my age, maybe with two children of her own, but on the other side of the world. Where I worry about comforts, she may worry about necessities. Where I struggle through a living, she is actually trying to stay alive. I obsess over the insignificant details of silly interactions, and her relationships are what she clings to for survival.

I pulled the plug on the tub and lay back to let gravity take its toll, crushing upon on my bones, sinking me down, down, down. The weight of humanness.

"Touch it," I hear. "Feel it."

As much as I know being human is temporary, this past year I have come to understand the big importance of it. We all bear humanity's heaviness; and we all receive the privilege of participating in it. Me and my friend across the world. 

It's the end of the year, so I've thought about the process of our new year's resolutions, how we make lists to "better" ourselves, things generally related to weight and bad habits and somehow elevating ourselves nearer the impossible standards we allow culture to dictate. The other woman, she will want to better herself too; but she will do so without a juicer or a workout plan or new beauty products to aid her vanity. How easily distracted we are. What I focus on covering up, she will expose and correct. 

Last year, in lieu of resolutions, I gave myself grace

. I have felt the grace soften and reopen my heart in a far more real way than I could have anticipated. For grace to continue its work, I must be willing to change my perspective. I must be pliable enough to be redirected and refashioned, especially where it is hardest or scariest. I thought I might forgo the resolutions process again, and instead I will try to ask myself questions, bringing to light and becoming vulnerable with what I think I can fix on my own, but really can't. Since I learned this year anyway, life has little to do with living rightly or wrongly, and a lot more to do with the way in which we move through it. That's really the humanness part--not how we achieve living across some moral spectrum or according to tools of measurement, but the fact that we simply do it, in the face of its weight.

Maybe, in being human, my international friend is not so different than me. Maybe we all want the same things, and some of us--like me--have a misconstrued vision of how to get there. There aren't steps, there aren't formulas, there aren't really even ways of being. Humanity is fluid, and it's all important, all beautiful, all good. The choice really is not in how we touch life but in how we let it touch us, by daily casting off the standards that tell us to do and measure, and instead asking the questions that help us to feel life to its fullest:

  1. Am I saying yes and being brave?
  2. Am I leaning on my own understanding?
  3. Am I exercising perseverance?
  4. Am I exuding grace?
  5. Am I a steward of others and what I've been given myself?
  6. Am I aware of the moment?
  7. Am I being unashamedly, boldly myself?
  8. Am I pursuing my dreams?
  9. Am I acting in love?

I am grateful for the grace I found in 2015. I hope I was able to give it. Here's to a brave, big, and full 2016. Happy New Year!

Things I Didn't Know Before This Year

1. It takes longer to figure anything out than they say it will.

2. You will never actually feel your age (or rather, what you think your age should feel like).

3. I actually like a center part when my hair is long.

4. Life happens. It doesn't happen the right way or the wrong way. It just happens, and you go from there. 

5. It's not so much the busy-ness of cities that appeals to me, but the un-stuck-ness of them. I care less about being busy and more about being flexible.

6. I can finish writing a book. Whether or not I can finish revising remains to be seen.

7. I lost my voice. I think I'm finding it again. But fear can creep into places where you were certain you were certain. I'm going to try to be braver and more disciplined instead of louder and apathetic.

8. You can't relive a single, solitary second, so you better pay attention the first time. (I have to relearn this every year, which is dumb.)

Claire Margit

I used to go over to Claire's house in yoga pants and with the craziest bun on top of my head. We would walk in the door without knocking, say hi to the girls, including Winnie the Great Dane, and then I wander through their gorgeous home to the kitchen: Claire always had a French Vanilla latte--bowl sized--ready-made when I arrived. She has a sixth sense about when to turn on the Nespresso. 

At Claire's house, there were always toys on the floor. Everywhere. She would not mind my telling you this because, for her, it is a point of pride. And for me, it was the marker of a safe zone. My kids could call this place second-home and run wild with their friends. In fact, Claire's house is so safe, I would go with nothing. No snacks. No diaper bags. No water cups. "Use mine. Leave that at home," she would say. So, at my house, Lucy and Iris would simply share their water, and at Claire's house the girls knew which shelf held special forks and spoons for them to use at lunch.

Claire is basically a gourmet chef. If the play date was at my house, I made sure to have a box of mac and cheese on-hand; but if the play date was at Claire's house, she would literally prepare a feast. I might remark on how unbalanced this was and she would scold me. "It's my joy. Don't take my joy from me." 

We would let the kids stay up past nap time if they were playing well. We'd brew second coffees. Then I'd curl up and sink back into Claire's enormous couch and I would simply bask in her presence. What a selfish friend I am! But just to be near her invigorated me! Revived me! Set something right in my soul.

Claire is what you call a walking testimony, and if you know her story, you know that's quite literally true. She's sharing her story right now, on a new blog--it would be your privilege to read her words. She's bared her soul and told of how she beat cancer twice and how she's overcome addiction and how she's made peace with being human. 

When I meet the Lord someday, I think he's going to tell me that Claire was actually an angel on earth. That's what knowing her is like. But Claire would think that's a funny thing to say because she's been through so much and still finds the good in being human.

All Claire wants out of life is to share the truth of Redemption. 

And maybe that's what I miss the most--just to be near her and to feel it running off of her and how good it felt to cry for no reason other than that until I walked through her door, I'd been striving for an unattainable perfection, and then she'd hand me that oversized coffee mug and hug me tight and cuss when she dropped something on the floor and just glow with the actual love of Christ.

On a day that's hard, I think of Claire. And not because I need to compare my pale problems to what she's overcome. She would scold me for that too: "Your pain is your pain." But instead I think about how she calls things out, face value, no holds barred; and then she stops, takes a deep breath, and says, "God loves us so much." 

Claire has about 13,891 talents. Not just things she's good at; things she does expertly.

One of these things are her beautiful floral arrangements. She used to cut plants from her garden or ours and then she would make professional bouquets for us as gifts--again, because it is her joy. When we moved to New York, it was a parting almost without tears. It was like her soul was talking to my soul without us actually saying the words, and she knew to come was what I needed. (I'm convinced she communes with God in a way that most of us don't. He probably let her in on His secrets for our life here.) She smiled as we walked down the path from her house, through the gate, for the last foreseeable time (thank the Lord I've since been back!). She said, "Send me photos of the florist shops. Think of me whenever you see a pretty window!"

Oh, Claire, I do. I think, "Claire would love this." And then when I snap the photo, I think, "God loves us so much."

Letting Go

We were at church on Sunday, singing along with the worship, when I felt this little pang. You see, for practically as much of my life as I can remember, I've been singing at church. Though I never pursued music professionally like my siblings, it's something by which I identify myself, particularly in a church community. "Oh, you're that singer." Recently, because of changing churches and, of course, caring for two small children, it's something I've stepped away from. I'll be the first to admit that having a jealous desire to be on stage at church is evidence that my heart isn't in the right place to begin with; and, also, because of how my life looks right now, I've assured myself that it is not the time to participate in such things.

I watched the girl on stage, singing, smiling, and I actually thought to myself, "Gosh, she seems young." There was a youthfulness to her face and something in her countenance, her presence, and enthusiasm, all telling of her age. And I almost chuckle to think that I told myself, "It's her time now."

What?

That thought made me feel a million years old. Am I really adult enough that I need to be stepping aside to the younger ones, the ones making and finding their own ways? Is it now my role to clear the paths for the ones who go rather than tread the path myself? 

Naturally, I still have ambitions. 

I have responsibilities, too. Stability where once there was none. I live a certain way of life, which I suppose I could adjust, but am really pretty happy with. I have this picture of who I want to be now.

When I graduated college, I thought I had a picture too. I felt like the real me was deep inside and ready to burst out and just live and be, so I was constantly seeking what I needed to draw her out. I was sure adulthood would be to obtain what I had so long been striving for. I'd finally feel it within my clutches and then I would know and I would feel sturdy and rooted.

That's probably pretty normal. We are young and we think we know what we want out of life. But we make the unfortunate mistake of assuming that growing up is grasping hold of something, when, in actuality, it's really learning and refining the practice of letting go. 

The older I get, the more I strip away, the more I give up, the more I lay to rest. I do these things in the name of who I am and am meant to be. It's not that I've arrived or that I'm self-actualized; it's that I no longer feel the need to fight for it tooth-and-nail. Instead, I find greater peace in laying down arms (roles, ideas, things I thought I would accomplish) to focus on the smaller aspirations and meaningful pieces that make up the greatest part of me. I surrender the other things to make way for the most important things. 

I remember assuming that the grown-ups who said "I would have liked to..." but never did were the sad ones. Maybe they were lazy or unlucky or just failures, I thought; but it was really too bad for them that their dreams escaped them. What I think now, what I've seen in the eyes, bright and steady, of the majority of those who have gone before me, is that the ones who said "I would have liked to..." but never did, probably found far greater happiness elsewhere. I'm sure they were happier than the ones who couldn't let go, the ones who spent their whole lives trying to find and have and grasp everything, and instead watching it all slip through their fingers in the end. The happy ones found that one thing--family, a hobby, a passion--and they clung to it with all their strength, even if it meant watching something else fall by the wayside. And in the end, for them, what they held on to was with them. It was nurtured, full grown, more fulfilling than they ever could have anticipated in the beginning. 

Sometimes when you're still young, but not as young as some, it's easy to allow feelings of inadequacy to creep in. "I'm not working as hard as I once did," I've thought to myself; and I've said out loud more times than I could ever count, "I don't know why I'm so tired." I look at "kids" just starting out, positive they know which way to head, and so unbelievably confident and capable. I wonder if I ever was that way, and how in growing older, I've backtracked somehow? 

But I think what I'm doing, what I hope I'm doing, in focusing on my family, in pursuing a simpler way of living, in dedicating myself to one craft and dream, is letting go of the other things that really would only stand in my way, when it comes down to it. I hope I'm digging into the things that matter. I hope I'm left standing with something bigger than I could have dreamed ten years ago. I hope it's a legacy.

In fact, if I could leave a legacy, it would be that I knew how to let go, to move with life, to ignore the unimportant, to forgive wrongs, and to pour myself into only the things that matter. 

Anxious

I am not, by nature, an anxious person. And by this I mean not that I never worry or over-consider things or get excited in that really exaggerated way; rather that I am not one to submit myself to undefined worry or excitement. If I'm jumpy and nervous or breathless and excitable, I always know why. 

I've been rather alarmed, then, by this inexplicable grip of anxiety around my throat and heart lately.

While I'm not an anxious person, I am admittedly melodramatic; but let me clear things up and be frank: the other day, I was pretty positive I was having a panic attack. I couldn't catch my breath and my chest felt tight like someone had tied the pipes between my lungs into a knot just to see if I could inhale through it. 

I will assure you, there is, to my knowledge, absolutely nothing in my life currently that should be causing me anxiety. I can see the horizon, and it looks like smooth sailing and happy sunflowers and rainbows and unicorns at the end. In fact, we have a lot of actual good stuff that we are looking forward to. 

So I'm either some sort of involuntary psychic, premonitions manifesting themselves as anxiety; or I'm actually allowing myself to become physically panicked over the happiness looming before us. [Oooooooo, ooooooooo! Scary happiness!] I guess if that were it, you could say--sometimes "anxious" can be a good feeling? It's maybe not the best word choice, but suppose, in some cases, it accurately describes a feeling. Like waiting for an upcoming vacation, for example, or starting a new job. But this is not that. 

Anyway, I've been thinking a lot about being "anxious for nothing." Because if you grew up churched, as I did, this is a verse that you know, not necessarily because your Sunday school teacher made you memorize it, but because it is quotable in just about any situation. I should point out, that when I say "situation," I basically mean "small crises;" and so maybe this verse has always had a gray cloud hanging over it for me. ("Hey! Here's some encouragement if you're worried about something bad!")

But last night, when I couldn't sleep (because, now, if a baby isn't keeping me up, this wretched worry is), I started thinking about how the verse isn't telling me to not be anxious about bad stuff; it's telling me to be anxious for nothing. Good or bad. This troubled me because I typically rather like excitement and anticipation and all of these really fun emotions that sort of walk the line of anxiousness. 

Then it hit me: If you're anxious, you're not present. 

Whether you're fearing the future or willing it to come faster, anxiety means that you are there instead of here. This is something that I don't want to be; thus, even if I really was just excited-anxious for the good that's coming, it's creating a sort of negative reaction in me by taking me away from where I want to be. I want to be here. Right now, right here, not missing anything. The good will still be good when it arrives and I can enjoy it then; to try to enjoy it now could be to deprive myself of the unexpected joys of the present moments. 

Just a good thing to realize on a Monday, I think.

Living

Look, I have miserable days too. That is the nature of life.

Yesterday, I woke up with a smiling baby in my face and foggy, misty mountains out my window (we all know this is my favorite thing), and somehow the morning still fell apart. That smiling baby sometimes screams. My perfectly darling toddler is sometimes not. Sometimes I get mad at my hair or I spill my coffee or Roscoe is on my last nerve. Just when you think you've potty-trained, you're cleaning poop up off the floor--right in front of the toilet.

There are even days with far greater troubles. I've worried about the future. I've stressed over finances. I've lost loved ones. I've questioned all the elements I assumed were holding me together as a person.

You know, this is our human experience. And those sorts of days can really get me down like anyone else. They seem to pop up in waves and it's like life is just unbearable for a minute. I'm a firm believer in wallowing if need be, so you do. You sulk and you pout and you yell at God or however else you like to burn off your anger. Then that's that and life moves on. It always does.

I think "life seems too perfect" is a really unfair accusation. We are all humans together and so let's just assume that we are all having bad days now and again. But we are all humans together and so we are all making choices about what will effect our attitudes, what will consume our attention, what we allow to reside in the corners of our minds. 

This is a lesson I've only learned through growing older. Before, I just assumed that if I was doing everything right, then everything would look and feel right--to me and to everyone else. So when I hit that life space where nothing was as I envisioned, my natural conclusion was that it was wrong. It made me sad. It made me overly analytical. It made me tired. (Self-inflicted depression takes a lot of energy.) And I felt the need to express this to the world because life was oh-so-dreadful and it was time to discuss what to do after we'd messed everything up (you know, at the ripe age of 23). 

Things aren't messed up. 

Mornings are new.

Do you know how to use new mornings? You make the choice to make it better. 

Guess what. Maybe it won't be. I willed yesterday morning to be better, and it was still stupid. 

So I chose to make today better. Stay tuned.

And I've come to this place where these are the things I want to remember, so they are the things I want to share. When I look back on my life, like everyone else everywhere, I can just assume that there were hard periods, times where nothing seemed right. But I'd rather pay homage to what I did with those experiences by recording the beautiful and good pieces, by sharing the lessons learned, and by keeping those tough parts in perspective. They are only small pieces of the whole.

In an overly philosophical vein, I suppose it makes sense to compare life to an ocean. Because of course it's cliche, as many metaphors are, but our life experiences do ebb and flow. They are calm and they are stormy; they are deep and they are shallow; they are in and they are out; and sometimes they are full of life or quieter than any other place on earth. But when you step back and take it all in, it really is a breathtaking thing, isn't it? That's how I want to see my life when I'm in it, it's how I want to remember my life at the end, and it's how I hope I convey my life to others. 

Never perfect, never wrong, just living.