Friday, November 30, 2012

Birthing or Searching or Burying

Yesterday, I read a beautiful, hard, heart-true post by Shawn about loss upon loss, grief upon grief. Here are just a few paragraphs of his story.
And on the day after my Grandmother dies, and on the day before her viewing, my wife miscarries. It follows the progression of birth and takes a few hours. I gather what was passed, as if sifting through all of the pain and disappointment, trying to find something, anything. And I bury what she passed in a box, under a pile of large rocks in the woods where we will soon live. On the box is the word HOPE.
There are things I forget when normal life overwhelms me with static. Yet in that empty darkness of grief, surrounded by those who love me, the static fades, and the hint of a subtle melody emerges.
These words, they made my heart stop. I'm not sure why they moved me so deeply. Sometimes I see things, read things, hear things, and they wake something in me that I didn't even know was sleeping.

The comment I left Shawn was this:
What a hard, hard time. I think I would have been struggling with the why, and you were out putting hope to rest and hearing a melody. This is what faith in action must look like. Blessed assurance.

And Shawn responded:
Thank you for reading, Anna. If it is faith in action, then it is of less sturdy stuff than I have grown up believing faith should be. But I hope you’re right.

I got this comment in my email, and reading it, oh my heart crumbled. For Shawn and for myself and for every person out there walking in the woods with the remains of birth-death, looking for a place to put it to rest. Here's what I wrote Shawn back. These words are for him, but also for all of us. Because we're all either birthing or searching or burying. There's not much else.

Oh Shawn. I just read your response to my comment, that if what you did in those dark moments is faith, then it is of less sturdy stuff than what you were taught growing up. What sturdier stuff could there be? I was taught a lot about faith growing up, most of which centered around following the rules. Which now that I'm older and have been clawing through the dark for a while, I've decided is bull. Where is the rulebook for when you're drowning in depression or fired or dumped or hungry or sick? What code of conduct do you follow when your baby dies?

I say none. The life of rules and guidelines and appearances is simpler. It involves a lot less doubt and questioning and uncertainty. Is that a life of faith? Or does it take more faith to live in the in-between places, where there is laughter and love and goodness of strangers, but also tears and blood and dying. I don't know if my faith is sturdy, but in the in-between, where I am worn thin with grief and joy, God hovers near. There it's all kairos, every wrenching second.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

50 Freezer Meals + Glorious Happiness

Good morning lovelies,

I am so happy today. I got the secretary to take a picture of me at work because I wanted to memorialize it. Here I am, spangly scarf, flower ring, black dress, flowered tights, leopard print wedges. Love it all!

I was driving to work, thinking about how gloriously happy I was. It reminded me of the day my husband and I were on a dingy sidewalk in California and I smelled the most wonderful smell. I followed it, my nose probably twitching like a spaniel’s, into this little hole in the wall ice cream shop where they were making homemade waffle cones. Right there! It was amazing! I think it was the happiest moment of my life.

I don’t say this to discount all the other amazing and much more significant moments in my life: the
day the preacher said, “you may kiss the bride”, when my water broke three weeks early, seeing my
daughters’ faces as we approached Cinderella’s castle for the first time. Those moments were bigger
and more expensive and life changing and planned. There was too much anticipation and expectation
wrapped up in them to be totally free.

Discovering the waffle cones, that was a totally unexpected, unweighted moment. Those happinesses are the best.

So today I’m driving to work, thinking about how happy I feel and how wonderful it is to be alive and have leopard shoes and spangly scarves to put on and about wrapping Christmas presents tonight and just all the goodness in the whole freaking world, and then about two minutes later I realize that I am thinking about what I would do if I got to work and found out that my husband was in a car accident on his way to work and he and my girls were killed.

When I caught myself, I was imaging sitting at their wake, and wondering if it would be worth paying my counselor by the hour to come sit with me and help me deal with my grief. Damn that forboding joy! As soon as I realized what was happening I told myself, “Hey! Back to the reveling at the birds and blades of grass. The sun is rising, no one is dying-cut it out!” And I did.

I doubt it ever goes away, forboding joy, not as long as we still have something to live for. But seeing it, today that was enough.

What I really wanted to share with you today is something TOTALLY different than what I usually write about. I found this post on Who Needs a Cape with recipes for 40 freezer meals in 4 hours. I’ve done this before, but there was a lot of advance cooking that needs to be done and also most of the meals were based on pasta or rice. These recipes are for the meat only. You assemble the bags (no pre-cooking), then put them in the crock pot all day, and voila! Dinner! Which is magical, because I’m not too concerned with all the house-y stuff, but for some reason the kids continue wanting to eat every. single. day.

So here’s my freezer. Last week I shopped the pre-Thanksgiving sales and ended up bagging and freezing 50 separate meals in portions of six. I also bought enough frozen rolls and bags of frozen veggies to go with the 50 meals, so we’re set at least until after Christmas, which was my goal because the holidays, they be crazy!

I don’t know how long it took exactly. It took about two hours to shop, and then I stopped prepping the meals partway through to take a little break and watch Grey’s Anatomy. Four hours seems about right.I also don’t know how much I spent. I think around $250 on the shopping list, plus another hundred or so on the frozen veg, rolls, crock pot liners, and freezer bags.

There wasn’t a shopping list included, so here's mine. Also, a lesson I learned the hard way. If you freeze the bags flat to save space, they don’t really fit in the crock pot. So if your hubs is packing the freezer, as mine was, tell him to freeze things upright so you’re not trying to hack it in half with a bread knife on your way out the door.

Happy Christmas season. Love you!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Soul Rest: Retreating to the Heart of Life

I'm very excited to have a gift for you all today! I've written an ebook titled Soul Rest: Retreating to the Heart of Life. It's a short guide to making a retreat right in the busy heart of life, where we live up to our elbows in diapers and clutter and phone calls and demands. Right where we are.

a Bible
comfy pajamas
a candle or tea light
a match
grown up bubble bath (no princesses on the label)
a few bags of herbal tea
at least two packets of instant Starbucks Via or other coffee
your favorite mug
a small, pretty notebook

The book is an outline of a weekend, Friday evening to Sunday morning, carved out and set aside for a personal retreat. I wrote this because a friend of mine went on an organized retreat a few months ago, and I was so jealous! As soon as she told me about it I knew it was something I wanted to do, but it isn't offered again for months. I think taking time to withdraw and refocus is so important, for all of us, no matter our age or denomination. So, the guide. It's like all the good stuff, but with snacks and no strangers. In it you'll find spiritual practices that are a part of my own life. Practices that help me slow down and listen to the small voice. Check out the first page below to learn a little more.

 To download a copy, just LIKE me on Facebook and click on the SOUL REST tab. See you there!

Dear Lovely,

This little guide is just for you. I know that you’re tired and stressed and up to your eyeballs in diapers and dirty laundry that seem to multiply if you turn your back. I’m SO there. In fact, as I was trying to jot down my ideas for this ebook one baby snuck into my bathroom and splashed in the toilet, and the other one climbed into bed so she could write with me. There was a lot of stopping, starting, and deep breathing.

I know you understand how I feel, and that’s why you need to retreat. There’s no shame or weakness in that, none at all. Self care is biblical. Even Jesus withdrew for times of quiet reflection. Life is busy and loud and urgent, and the still small voice is, well, so very small. All the things we love, our children, our homes, our church, our community, our jobs, can completely smother that quiet whisper before we even miss it.

“Where are you God?” I wonder then. “Have you slipped away to greener pastures, to commune with better, more reverent souls?” Then, if I’m not careful, the busy calls again and I’m off chasing all the shoulds and oughts and wishes, and I forget the voice altogether. It’s so hard to remember when there’s so much pulling for my attention.

One of my friends went on a retreat a few months ago. It was organized and lasted several days. She had an awesome experience there, in a place designed for resting and sitting and waiting. There was no phone or internet or TV. There were no video games or movies. There were only trees and birds and blue lake and wide sky. It was a place where she could shake off all the stuff piled on top of the small voice and hear again.

We all need that. Quiet spaces. Margin. To just sit. To wait. To rest. To let things fall away, and to see what resurfaces. To discover what goodness catches us when we stop running. We may not have a physical camp to go to, or a church to organize this for us, but the desire for retreat comes from a deep soul place.

I share with Laura (Playdates with God), Anne(1000 gifts), Michelle (Hear it on Sunday, Use it on Monday), Rachel (Finding Joy), Jennifer (God Bumps), Rebekah (Take Delight Tuesdays), and Soli deo Gloria.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Thank You, Thank You, Thank You

I went to a Christian college, and there was an undercurrent of God as a micro-manager there. As in, "I'm sorry I was late for class, but God made all the lights red. Probably to keep me out of a fatal car accident. So don't mark me tardy, 'kay!"

Personally I see God as more distantly involved, able to intervene, but mostly not. I believe God lets us stumble along, slowly finding our way, giving us chances to pick each other up.

So when a coincidence happens, I have a hard time knowing what to call it. Serendipity? A lucky happening? A God thing? Grace?

I spent the better part of this morning in quiet stillness. I sat in my chair and read emails and posts I had bookmarked. I read a prompt to write a letter of thanks to myself for showing up this past year, even when (especially when) things were hard, and I did. Because I am so, so thankful that a fighter part of myself decided to crawl out from under the dark covers and live.

Then I thought about five minute Fridays and how I enjoy those posts in my blog feed. Maybe I should do that one day, I thought. I clicked over to Lisa-Jo's site, and what was the prompt?

Thank YOU.

Once again I feel blown off my feet by life. Like it is just so big-small-beautiful-crushingly good. What words are there to say except thank you, thank you, thank you.

Dear Lovely,

I am thankful today for the leaps, jump after jump taken off mountains large and small. You knew, I think, that there was a better way to live. Or maybe not. Maybe you just knew to stay in the cold, thin air was to die. You flung yourself out without seeing which arms would catch you. You were brave enough to change your life

This is why I am thankful. Because now I see that tears and racing heart and sweaty palms are not only part of the leap, but also of the before. It all hurts. To stay freezing, forehead pressed to bathroom floor. To leap into the unknown spaces of yourself. It all hurts, but now when I open my eyes I no longer see blurred black and white tiles. I see only clouds and blue, blue sky.

I'm linking up with today with Lisa and Sandra and Jennifer and Rachel.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

may your heart be thin, may the eternal kiss you

Last night while I was reading, my upper body locked up. Pain stabbed through my chest and between my shoulder blades and radiated up the left side of my face. Of course, I immediately thought, "HEART ATTACK! HEART ATTACK! HEART ATTACK!" Because that's what I do. Jump from zero to dying in no time flat.

I'm writing this morning, so I'm obviously not dead. Happy Thanksgiving!

Last week Jean wrote about thin places. Places where "heaven kisses earth, and eternal time brushes against ordinary time." Kairos places.

There are sites, map coordinates for these places. We could go there, you and I. We could make a pilgrimage and sit cross legged under the vast blue sky. They say, people that know, that God hovers close there.

What I want, through this holiday season and forever, is for my heart to be the thin place. I don't want to board a plane to feel the kiss of heaven. I want to carry it with me wherever I go. I want my heart, my fragile, hurting heart, to recognize fleeting kairos, eternal moments, as they pass. I want to be my own mountain. My own retreat.

After I finish this post, I'm taking the rest of the week off from writing. Family is coming to visit. There will be meals prepared together, candles lit, hands held. There will be a resting together. Kairos.

I love you too. You have encouraged me in so many moments through your comments and your own writings. I am sitting here by the fire, cozy in body and soul. I am thinking of you, saying a prayer. May your heart be thin. May the eternal kiss you. Kairos.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Notes on Happier at Home

Roses and rosemary from my garden

I finished reading Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin last night. Here's what I found post-it worthy:

1) "Finally, I'd realized our apartment didn't have to reveal any deep truths. I expressed myself in other ways; it was enough that my apartment was a pleasant, comfortable place to live. Some people get tremendous creative satisfaction from shaping the look of their homes, but I don't; I find it exhausting. In this area, I would be authentically inauthentic."

2) "Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that, but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing."  William Butler Yeats

3)"Cultivating my possions, then, wasn't a simple matter of organization, elimination, or accumulation; it was a matter of engagement. When I felt engaged with my possessions, I felt enlivened by them, and when I felt disengaged from them, I felt burdened." Objects are engaged through frequent use or through a pleasing emotional response.

4) The Five Fateful Questions for making difficult choices: What am I waiting for? What would I do if I weren't scared? What steps would make things easier? What would I do if I had all the time and money in the world? If I were looking back at this decision, five years from now, what will I wish I'd done?

5) Suffer for 15 minutes. Do something that really needs to be done, even if it fills me with dread, for 15 minutes. Big tasks can be accomplished in small, regular chunks of time.

6) When someone makes an attempt to connect with a touch, question, gesture, comment, or look, we should answer with a comment, a laugh, or some kind of acknowledgement. Failed bids lead to feeling diminished and frustrated.

7) Celebrate holiday breakfasts!

8) Does my presence make people happier? Do my actions contribute to conditions that will increase other people's happiness? Practice "nonrandom" acts of kindness, ones that will make people happier in my presence on a very small scale.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Grace Will Meet You There

If you're crying today, don't apologize. Cry harder. It's okay to feel what you feel.

If you're dreaming, lift up your eyes. Dream bigger. Let your heart confess what it really wants.

If you're lost today, sit down. The light will dapple your spot on the road soon enough and illuminate the way.

If you're burning today, burn up. Don't hold back a reserve. Give your all.

If you're holding a hand, grip it tighter. Lock your fingers and agree to not let go.

If you fall today, sink in. Feel your gravity, the space the world holds only for you.

If you're in love today, fall deeper. Dive in without a thought for safety. Let it fill your lungs until all that pains you is drowning.

No matter where you are, grace will meet you there.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

I Light My Candle, and I Wait

"It is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness."

I'm just coming home from bunco with my friends. It's cold outside, one of the first nights that really feels like fall, but I feel warm. Nesting.

My mind is already on Thanksgiving, Advent, my word for next year. I recognize my blue door with the planter beside it filled with bricks and acorns, and when I walk in I feel supported. Surrounded on all sides by branches and brambles, cushioned by feathers I've plucked from my own skin. I sit at my paint splattered desk, Adele on the radio, a stack of books beside me. I hold a space for the evening. I light a candle.

My husband and I were in Westminster Abbey on my 25th birthday. The trip to London was really for him, a lifelong dream. We were tense, angry, strung out from jet lag and navigating the city with pocket maps. But there, in the Abbey, we heard the organ play.

I stood beneath the sweeping arches that have sheltered so many and withstood so much, wars and bombs and weddings and funerals, all wrapped up in incense. The slabs of stone, worn by the feet of so many pilgrims, just continue to stand. I imagined the songs that had been sung here, the prayers that had been prayed. How many?

On our way out my husband stopped and lit a candle for me, on my birthday. For the gift of my life. He held my hand there in the back of the church and prayed a blessing over me, thanking God for the gift of my life and for the years to come.

This is what I think about tonight as I look at the candle flickering beside me. About prayers and blessing. I light my candle and I wait. I make my peace.

Monday, November 12, 2012

It's Gonna Be Okay

Journal for the anxious worrywart

I saw a link to this on Brene Brown's website and it just cracked me up. In case you can't read the tiny print the cover says,
"A journal to reassure myself when I am overwhelmed by the creeping sense of impending disaster and the all-encompassing fears both specified and vague that colonize my mind, body, and soul, all of which, from the completely far fetched to the sometimes probable, do me no good to contemplate and in fact make me miserable, and even though optimism may be un-self-aware and ill placed, I know I'll be happier as a blind fool than a clairvoyant apocalyptic."

Here's an inspirational inner page...

Journal for the anxious worrywart

just in case you were wondering about that. 

And I love this description from Nordstrom:
Reassuring and inspirational quotations pepper the pages of a notebook tailored for the anxious worrywart.  It's so perky, yet specific. Apparently there is someone studying all us worriers out there, and this was their brainchild product. They're pretty dead on. I have actually said, "Life kicks everyone in the teeth sooner or later." Not exactly a brick, but I think that's country-girl speak for the same thing.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Worthy, Precious, Loved

Yesterday I posted about What I Want my Kids to Know. When I first wrote this into my journal, I planned to print it to go in their rooms. I talk to them already about worthiness, about relationship, about love that exists outside of their behavior.

On one particularly memorable day we were walking home from the park, and child 1 was screaming and crying very loudly and dramatically. I told her, quietly, that although her behavior was not very good at the moment, she was good and I still loved her. She was still a precious soul.

She started screaming (very loudly), "I don't love you! YOU ARE NOT PRECIOUS!" We did this all the way home, me saying things like, "I hear that you are angry. This is not acceptable behavior. But I still love you," and her screaming, "NOOOOO! I don't love you! I DO NOT LOVE YOU!"

My mom says she is too young to understand when I say these things to her, and maybe that's true. But what is the magical number? I don't know at what point she will understand, and I want these truths, You are worthy, You are loved, You are a precious soul, to be the first things that she remembers.

Not getting pushed off the slide at school. Not making me proud for doing something well. Not learning to write her name. Not the arrival of her sister. Not who said something mean at school. Not how to make me smile.

All those things matter too, but they are not what I want to be first. When she is my age and doubt and insecurity and fear slip into her bed, I want the deepest, farthest back thing, the words pressed right up against her heart, to be Worthy, Loved, Precious. Even if I'm no longer able to say it. Even if no one else says it.

A commenter yesterday pointed out that this is a message for all of us, really. No matter how old we are, no matter what our deepest words are, this is what the Father whispers to us. You too are worthy. You too are loved. You too are precious. Without condition.

If you'd like to print a copy of this for your house you can do that HERE.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

What I Want my Kids to Know

what I want my kids to know

You are, and always will be, loved, no matter who you become or what choices you make. You derserve love. You will always have worth because you are a precious soul.

Does this mean there will be no hard consequences? No. But I promise I will not degrade you. I will not say, "I told you so." I will stand by you, because you are my child. I will always be in your corner.

I will love you, because all of us are worthy of love. I will forgive you, because I have walked in darkness and needed forgiveness. We all fall. We all fail. These moments are not what define you. What matters most is how you rise.

If you'd like a printable version of this, click here.

A few posts about parenting that spoke to me this week:

     May we let LOVE lead us.
     May we let generosity guide our actions.
     May we stand for what Christ stood for or rather stand with
     those whom Christ stands with. ALL.

This post is shared with Simple as That, Still Saturday, The Sunday Community, and Finding Joy (check out their buttons on my sidebar.)

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Struggle (and Tired of Speaking Sweetly)

struggle jacob angel tired speaking sweetly self portrait

I am struggling this morning, which is really something like code for 'burning down in flames.' Every time I feel this way I think, "Be ignited or be gone."

It's not a war. It could never be. A war implies an end. A victor. One side firebombing the other into oblivion. There can be no firebombing, no obliteration, when all the fighting is in myself. I will not go down, I will not turn to ash, but I cannot destroy the flames. I beat them back and they just keep on rising, spreading, jumping the ring of bare earth I'm trying to scratch out.

I'm more comfortable with the idea of things as a struggle. I think of Jacob wrestling with the angel. I can feel it, fingers digging into the side of the stranger, pressed up against one another, bones breaking, rocks bruising into skin as we roll on the ground and get more and more covered with dirt.Holding on. Not letting go. Demanding, "Bless me. Bless me and change my name."

Maybe it's really love that's holding us down.

I came across this poem a few days ago, and although it is very old it seems like the most current, true thing I have read in a long time. If you're burning today, read this slowly. Don't let go.

Love wants to reach out and manhandle us.
Break up all our teacup talk of God.

If you had the courage and
could give the Beloved his choice, some nights
He would just drag you around the room
by your hair,
ripping from your grip all those toys in the world
that bring you joy.

Love sometimes gets tired of speaking sweetly
and wants to rip to shreds
all your erroneous notions of truth

that make you fight within yourself, dear one,
and with others.

Causing the world to weep
on too many fine days.

God wants to manhandle us,
lock us inside of a tiny room with Himself
and practice His dropkick.

The Beloved sometimes wants
to do us a great favor:

hold us upside down
and shake all the nonsense out.

But when we hear
He is in such a "playful drunken mood"
most everyone I know
quickly packs their bags and hightails it
out of town.

"Tired of Speaking Sweetly"
From The Gift by Hafiz
Translated by Daniel Ladinsky

Monday, November 5, 2012

Meet Them at the Door Laughing

This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they're a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still, treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight. The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.

(The Guest House by Rumi)

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Cracks Let the Light Come In


I attended a counseling conference recently themed "Transformation through Adversity." I love that. It reaches right into a little place in my heart gives it a squeeze. "God yes," my heart says. "Let's do that."

One of the speakers talked about the Japanese art of kintsugi, the art of beautiful repair. When beautiful things are broken, the cracks can't be "vanished." The breaks are there, no hiding them. Instead each of those breaks, each chip, is filled with gold resin. Smoothed down. Made whole again. Made even more beautiful.

When I walked into counseling months ago I sat down and said, "I'm here because I am broken." there was no question if I was broken, I knew it. I felt it all the way into my bones. I hid it, so well. I was a good hider. But I knew.

I knew that I woke up and wondered if I would be alive at the end of the day.

I knew that I had panic attacks driving to work.

I felt like something was sitting on my chest and stealing all my fresh air.

I felt like I was about to come apart, gravity pulling me down, down, down.

I could never be good enough.

I said, " I'm broken, and I get that. But I have to learn how to live, because right now I feel stuck together with scotch tape, like after any breath it could all come apart. And if it does, if it all comes undone, I think I'll fall down and never rise again."

A lot has happened since then. It is amazing, the journey. The people that we find, that find us. The hands that show up to hold us.

I am able to sit here today and write words that I thought I never could. I am enough.

I do not have to earn it. I can't work my way toward it. I'm not better than you for knowing it.

I am enough. 

So are you.

The most amazing thing is that all of my hard times, all my sadness, all of my dark, blocked out moments, are becoming my gifts. These are my stories. These are my lifelines to throw out into the stormy sea, what I can use to float someone else just a little longer.

These let me say, "I've been there," and mean it. I know, I do, what it's like to sleep in fear, what it's like to starve myself to be worthy, to be ashamed of my voice, to want to sleep forever. To question why I deserve to even exist. I speak, not from a place of professional skill and education, although I do have that. I speak from the other end of the tunnel.

Being broken isn't the worst thing. The cracks let the light come in. The cracks are what make us beautiful.