Gentleness in the Chaos


The end of the fall semester is fast-approaching (much faster than expected in some ways). Everyone knows what this is like. Everyone knows what the stress and weariness and just general chaos are like. Vacation is drawing nearer but so, too, is the academic gauntlet that must be run in order to reach it. Tests must be studied for (or, in some cases, crammed for the night before), projects must be finished, presentations given, and papers written. The end of an academic semester is hardly the gentlest of times for either teacher or student, speaking as one of said teachers.

As we head into this hectic time, gentleness is paramount and oh so necessary. Gentleness with ourselves as well as with others. You are allowed to be gentle with yourself. (yes, I’m saying this to myself as much as to you, dear one). You are allowed to let yourself get sleep. You are allowed to feed and water yourself liberally. Whether it is end-of-semester or Christmas prep, you are absolutely allowed to keep yourself from running yourself into the ground over the next few weeks.

As the days wend closer to those dreaded final exams, I can see the tension mounting in my students–in the way they hold themselves, in their behavior, in their speech–and I have to be on my guard, reminding myself of the necessity of gentleness. I have a responsibility to my students: to make sure that they are knowledgeable and prepared for the end of the semester and the final exam that awaits them. I want them to be confident in their knowledge, confident enough to hopefully offset any nervousness. However, I know that such a thing is unlikely to happen; nervousness is always part of the equation, even for the most seasoned student. But that unlikelihood will not stop me. Chaotic times need gentleness and kindness even more. In the midst of all the studying and the prep, I will do my best to encourage my students, to remind them that they can do this, that they can succeed.

You can do this, people. Time to HERO UP!

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The Advent of Gentleness


As we enter the Advent season today, I have been pondering just how gentleness ties into Advent. The words normally associated with this reflective yet celebratory season are: hope, peace, love, and joy. Advent is known as a season of hope and expectation, where the long-awaited comes to pass. But where does gentleness begin? I’m not necessarily thinking of the rush of the season, though it does come to mind. All the shopping, prepping, wrapping, and decorating. I myself am full of these plans, and I know their possibility to make this season an ungentle one. But that is a whole other blog post.

Where does gentleness begin? Is it in the things we buy, package, and donate? The wishes we try to fulfill? Is it in the hours we give to rehearsals and practices? Is it in the presents tucked away with all the hopes for them bringing joy when opened? Is it in the moments when we let the To Do list fall by the wayside, when we just sit in the glow of the lights with the warmth of our dear ones in our arms? Is it in our voice lifted still with cries for mercy and justice? What about the moments spent alone in contemplation over the year as it makes ready to be consigned to oblivion?

Yes.

I believe that this is where gentleness starts. In any of it. In all of it. In the small moments, the little things, in the corners of our hearts that we open up, in the generosity that we show, and in the quiet moments that we are mindful of and cherish. When we open ourselves up to let these beautiful things out, we let beauty and gentleness in as well. It refills us, reinforces us, and reminds us that we are dealing with very human hearts in a very humanly-flawed world.

Yesterday, I watched my daughter run up to a charity worker in front of one of the entrances to our local mall. You know, one of the people ringing the bell. Now, I don’t agree with this particular charity’s stance on several things that are important to me, but I know that these people are trying their best and sacrificing comfort and warmth to do what they hope is good. Therefore, I will never begrudge them. The lady ringing the bell smiled and bent near my daughter, offering the bell to her to ring with one hand and then holding out the other to shake her free hand lovingly. I saw gentleness in that moment, in their bright “Merry Christmases”, and in their holding the doors for people coming out and going into the mall. It’s moments like these.

The world, as we look at it today, is hard and harsh and frightening; it batters and beats and berates and bruises those who most need its mercy. We take that in day after day after day and fight not to let it make us hard in turn. We fight back with love and mercy, grace and gentleness. As Winn Collier points out, gentleness is subversive; gentleness is preposterous.

God comes to us with a preposterous gentleness that will always be a scandal in this rough-and-tumble world. And God invites us to join the scandalous subterfuge. Advent, these watchful days, asks us to see [sic] the world anew, to watch the alternative possibilities. Advent invites us to become gentle people again (Collier).

As we enter the Advent season today, let us join that “scandalous subterfuge”. Let’s hold fast to gentleness, refuse to let it be torn or pushed from our hands or hearts, speak it, and spread it. Let’s check ourselves, give ourselves a 5-second timeout, before we speak or react ungently to our loved ones. Let’s be willing to let some things go in order to hold on to what is most important. Let’s be willing to bend down, offer our bell and our hand, and give a smile to someone.

Whether you celebrate (or even like) Christmas or not, let’s embrace that preposterous gentleness. That gentleness that will undercut the dark and hard and the harsh and remind us to send our spirits out into the world among our fellow men. We only get one shot at this life, dear ones. Let’s make it a good one, starting with today.

“The Gentleness of Advent” by Winn Collier – http://winncollier.com/gentle_advent/

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When Being Gentle is Hard


I have been watching. I have been listening. I have been paying attention. And I have learned something about developing (or naturally having) a sensitive, gentle heart: even the gentlest of hearts gets tired. It opens one up to feeling a great deal, of intuiting emotion behind words and events and reacting deeply, even if you never show it outwardly. And that, dear friend, can be utterly exhausting. And that exhaustion can affect our ability to be gentle.

Several months ago (they can all start to run together eventually, can’t they?), my darling preschooler daughter kicked the bottom out of my proverbial spoon drawer. The hubby commented that I can “always find more spoons” but without the drawer to hold them, all I end up with are spoons all over the floor. The truth is that I was tired, as in “life is exhausting me and I need a break” tired. Green Eggs and Ham was tantamount to torture that night, as my girl insisted on “reading” it a second time herself. Even though I normally love to listen to her “read”, I was just tired and done, and tiredness is far from a recipe for gentleness for me. I was beset by sinus congestion and pressure/pain that had enveloped my entire head. And yet there were still things to do. This was not a case where “it will wait” was workable. Company was coming, Easter was coming, date-day was coming, a new bed was coming…there were things that had to be done! I was feeling, and often acting, far from gentle in those moments.

Like the writer in Psalms, I can feel myself crying out, “My soul is weary! (Psalm 119:28)” I wonder how (or if) I can ever get back to the replenishing that is promised in Jeremiah (31:25 MEV). I feel like I am swimming against the tide and it’s oh so wearying.

Tiredness makes gentleness hard, even (and maybe especially) with myself. If I am not careful, I can see my weariness as weakness, my difficulty in asking for help an insurmountable fault. I can see my being slow to grade a large set of assignments (only doing it bit by bit instead of in one all-nighter) as being lazy. I can see my humanity, my need for rest and recovery, as a fault. It’s a lie I can easily fall into if I am not careful. But that’s exactly what it is: a lie. My weariness is not a fault. It is a consequence of my humanity, yes, but not a fault. It is in such times as these that gentleness is having to be a conscious and deliberate choice, even if I don’t believe it. At that point, the crux is in the doing.

Right now, my soul is weary but I am choosing to be gentle with myself. I choosing to let myself off the hook for NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month) this year. I’m still going to post as often and as regularly as I can but I am not going to beat myself up if I miss a day or if I have to choose grading over writing or sleeping over grading. I want to write what is true and meaningful and helpful but I cannot do that if I am pushing myself to the breaking point, if I lose sight of the why within the action.

Dear One, if your soul is weary and tired today, gentleness can be hard. You won’t feel like being gentle, even and perhaps especially with yourself. Gentleness may take a conscious, deliberate decision that you may not quite feel as of yet. Keep doing it. I’m right there with you; you aren’t alone. Let’s keep being gentle with others and with ourselves, even when it’s hard. Especially when it’s hard. Allow yourself to rest as best you can, recover as best you can, soothe and care for your deeply feeling heart.  Being gentle can be hard but it is worth it. Choose your gentleness, over and over again. You may not have the room to feel it at the moment but keep doing it. The “feeling” will return eventually.

Gentleness: Our Power Under Control


A long while ago, a friend sent me a quote and its poignancy has sunk deep into the fibers of my brain and heart.

“It’s like being in love: giving somebody the power to hurt you and trusting (or hoping) they won’t.”

Marina Abramović, Rest Energy

When I speak of (and write about) love in gentleness, I don’t mean a lamb-meek, soft-as-kittens, never-raises-my-voice kind of gentleness. What I mean by gentleness is the recognition of humanity in ourselves, our need for grace and mercy, and the pouring out of what we so deeply need onto others, recognizing that they, too, share this flawed, fallible thing called humanity. Gentleness is our choice to be for and respond to others what and how we ourselves have often most needed. If love is indeed giving someone the means and power to destroy you and trusting them not to do so, then gentleness is giving to others what we so desire for ourselves: grace, mercy, and understanding.

Gentleness has also been defined as power under control. We all bear extraordinary power in the lives of others–power to heal or to harm, power to give life or to take it away–and gentleness is choosing the merciful road, to heal and to give life with our words and actions. Gentleness is choosing to bring that power under control, to use it to do good to those into whose lives we act, speak, and interact. As Jennifer Dukes Lee wrote: “Our words always fold into the souls of other human beings. That is no small thing.” How many of us think of or remember that? Of how far or deeply our words can go into the souls of others? Our words, our reactions, and our responses can often make all the difference in and to someone’s heart. An ungentle word, a rash response, these things can sometimes do irrevocable and lasting damage, even though it takes less than a moment to happen and be over.

Gentleness cradles the trust that someone has placed in us, holds it softly and lovingly, recognizing their humanity calling out, and responds with the understanding of our own humanity and fallibility. Gentleness sees what we have needed and responds by being that person for someone else. Our power is put to the good of another’s soul.

Together, we can show gentleness, we can be the person that we have needed for someone else. We can bring the power we have, wrap it in love, and speak life to someone else who may be standing in the same hard place(s) where we have stood.

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A Long Way From Home, Day 1


Yesterday was a long day: early morning traveling, frantic connection in our first stop, keeping up with my girl and keeping her close in the airports, and getting everyone and everything where it needed to go. Then, once we were established and fed, I set about unpacking while the hubby went to sleep and my girl played with Grandma. I didn’t find my rest until late last night when I opted to go to sleep rather than watch some late-night Netflix.

Today is Sunday, the day to see and be seen by the most people at any one time. To be covered in the flowery perfumes of the church ladies I’ve known all my life, deposited by enthusiastic hugs and Oh-my-sweet-good-to-see-you’s. Church is the place for us to be seen and shown off and delighted in by my parents. The educated, successfully-married daughter, the devoted, intelligent son-in-law, and the bright, bouncy, pretty granddaughter. I hope we do in fact make them as proud as everyone says we do. Admittedly, coming home and going to church can feel very awkward for me. I feel like everyone’s looking at me and weighing me against my former self. I know that this is likely merely my (incorrect) perception but it’s a difficult thought at times because there’s no way of divest anyone of a wrongful notion in two hours.

The more I come back, the more I realize how much where I live has actually become home now, rather than this place where I spent the first seventeen years of my life. I will always be a visitor here now, or at least that is how I feel. The school I went to, while the structures are still there, feels massively changed. The pastors are once again those from my childhood, but the staff of the church and the school is composed of both familiar and strange names, though mostly strange, death, illness, and circumstance having taken or moved on many of the people who were flagstones of those formative years. The church building that I grew up in is simultaneously the same and entirely different. The building is brand new, only 10 or 11 years old, a completely different edifice from the one I knew.  So this church really isn’t home anymore. I’m even too afraid to even touch the (grande) piano that sits on the platform. It’s not the piano on which I learned my scales or triumphed in my senior recital. It has never known my touch and so the entire building often feels alien and fragile to me.

My bedroom in my parents’ house is no longer my room. My bed is not my bed, but–quick sidenote–it is a marvelous bed! Beautiful dark-wood four-poster frame, elevated just enough that I actually have to climb into bed. A queen mattress to our full at home, I can also safely sprawl out in it and yet not disturb the hubby with my limbs all akimbo. Glorious! I may never own a King-sized bed but this is definitely the next best thing. End sidenote.

I love my family, and I am very glad that I have the opportunity and privilege to see them as often as I do. At one point this afternoon, there were two of my mother’s sisters in the house and one of her brothers on the phone, which we were passing around (as he lives up Lousiana-way). My girl was in raptures over the hand-me-down toys and sundries that one of her great aunts had brought her and I informed my uncle that he had best not get rid of his partner or kid about it since the family agrees that we like her better than we do him.

So today was a touch pensive but enjoyable, things to think about and others to rejoice in. Except for the part where my daughter was up at five-thirty and is only now going to bed at nine with nary a nap between. It’s enough to make a mother follow suit.

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A Year in Color


A friend asked me, “What color is each month?” So I replied:

January is pale, not quite white. Maybe a pale grey. 

February is an icy, snowy blue. It freezes your bones and chatters your teeth. 

March is a budding, washy green. 

April is the bright pink of first tulips and the purple of hyacinths. 

May is yellow, sunshine-bright. 

June is a hazy, feathery blue, with the warmth of summer and the smoke of barbecues setting in. 

July is fluffy color, rosy pink like cotton candy or golden like elephant ears. 

August starts to become bronzey, like late summer heat. 

September is all primary colors with school in full swing. 

October is gold and burnished. 

November is pumpkin orange and the mahogany of a cornucopia. 

December is a deep berry red and warm evergreen glow, reminding us that nature’s springtime glory needs sleep but will be back. Winter will bring its own beauty, and Spring will come again. 

The Joy of Evening


Friday night, as my little family left Target and we loaded up the car with our after-dinner shopping, I admittedly dragged my feet a bit as I returned to the cart to its corral. It had been a long while since I had experienced evening, and I realized that I had forgotten how beautiful it is…and how much I love it. That magical time between day and night. Friday was now just a thin golden line along the horizon. The air and dome of the sky above was a heavy blue that was quickly darkening with waning daylight. Lamps in the parking lot were coming on, the shadows around them rising and deepening, and the air cooling from the day’s heat. The evening felt rather the refreshed sigh you give when entering an air conditioned room from the summery outside.

I’ve missed evenings.

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