Grow


For the past month, I have been intensely engaged on a journey to better health and fitness. I have developed better habits over the past few years altogether, but, at the beginning of the school year, I decided to be more closely concentrated on my eating habits and expanding into new exercises and fitness goals. Since then I have done better than I imagined I would or even could, and I have met several goals/milestones already. Honestly, I am ecstatic! This is so wonderful to me, and I am excited. But I also worry.

What if my growth stops? What if my progress peters out? What if I get discouraged? What if I give up? I don’t want to do any of these things. I want to continue growing and bettering myself. I want to keep getting and feeling stronger.

It can be so easy to be excited about a new chapter or journey, and it can be equally as easy to feel discouraged when things start to settle into routine, slow down, stop entirely, or, for the love of sanity, move in the opposite direction. As I continue on this journey, I will remind myself that work will not happen on its own; I have to do my part to get results of any kind. If I have a goal, then I need to act like it, even if it just one little step that I take that day. Every step towards growth helps.

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Space


It is a universal truth that our house lacks space. There is stuff everywhere. That’s what happens with life: it can fill up with stuff. Therefore, it can be difficult at times to carve out a space for myself in our house. Somewhere that is mine. With future plans in motion, I am hoping that will change with some work, but, for now, it is what it is.

My space right now seems to be my desk as school (but even that gets taken over) or, more frequently, the car. I spend a minimum of 90 minutes per day driving. Often, the car is the one place in which I can be still and alone, usually before I pick up my daughter at the end of the day. There, I can listen to Audible and lose myself in a story or helpful book while I drive. I can think. I can pray. I can let the outside world slip away while the road slips past under my tires.

I do not necessarily like to drive but the car is often my refuge. I have fond memories of long talks and Glee sing-a-longs with my husband when we would travel hither and yon before our little girl came along. I can think of long stretches of quiet as I drive to the gym on Saturday mornings or laughing to “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me!” with the fresh new sunlight warm on my arm as we head out to a leisurely brunch. I have screamed out frustration, hurt, and anger in the car. I have poured out my heart and soul on telephone calls as I drive just to get away. The car is where I can be close to and alone with that loved one for just a little longer. The car is where I can linger.

It’s where I can make sacred space for myself.

Evening


I love evenings. when the light turns blue and the shadows lengthen, deepen, and the verdant trees become dark outlines. It is like the earth exhales long and slow. I rarely venture out into the evenings now, into the twilight-blue, unless it is to take out the trash. I am usually consumed by dinner, bath time, bedtime prep. By the time I am done with all of those responsibilities, evening has passed me by and it is long since dark outside.

I miss evenings. I miss the blue air and opaquing shapes of trees and houses. It does my soul good, and I want to get back to that. I shall step out my door and breathe in evening tonight, breathe in its beauty, its slowness, its rest. Such moments are precious, and I could use a little more precious in my life.

Morning


One of my favorite morning rituals during the weekends and summer breaks is heading to the gym early in the morning, when the light is still fresh and new. When the world still feels quiet and unsullied, when peace is still hanging on. During the week/school year, my mornings begin at 5:30am with waking my daughter and prepping to leave for school. They often feel rushed and harried and stressed, and I feel as though I cannot stop or we will fall behind, as my daughter is very much not a morning person.

One thing I have started to do is leaving the radio off for the first part of our drive to school. Usually, I listen to NPR in the early morning, to catch up and educate myself on the current affairs and goings on of the country and world. Lately, however, I have been gifting myself those minutes of quiet before I tune in to the world or my daughter demands her Disney songs.

Those few minutes of quiet help me to feel myself breathe. I am working on making it into a practice.

Struggling at the End


This is scary but I will write it anyway.

For the whole of this summer, I have struggled.

I have struggled to grieve.

I have struggled to process.

I have struggled to write.

I don’t like struggling. I am sure you do not either. It is hard, it hurts, and answers are not forthcoming. I feel stuck, and that is definitely no fun. I have written. Pages. But when I look back at them, I cannot help but feel that they don’t actually say anything, that I am just babbling on paper. I have even asked myself,

“Am I even doing this right?”

Did you catch that? I was questioning whether or not I am grieving correctly. If you have been a Reader for long, then you know I am intimate friends (frenemies?) with uncertainty. I question myself on the regular and now I have found myself questioning if I am moving through my emotions, my grief, my disappointment, in the right way.

God bless for a husband who sometimes reads over my shoulder when I am scribbling madly. He reminded me not too long after I had scratched this down on during a worship service that there is no right way to grieve. No “right way” to process. Grief is hard, sometimes solitary, and often confusing work. I have seen death throughout my life but am honestly unsure as to how exactly I grieved in each case.

I have struggled all summer, it feels like. Struggled to rest, struggled to recover, struggled to enjoy. Now we are coming to the end, and I feel like I want to despair. I would love a do-over of this summer, but we are not given the benefit of time-travel, are we? I feel panicky as the summer days draw closer to an end, scrabbling to grasp the last of my free time before it disappears, and school with all of its responsibilities and stresses crowds in again. I do not want to carry this burden in August. But grief doesn’t exactly give us a timeline of operation, does it?

I do not have an answer for how to do all of this, I am sorry. All I know is that I am just trying every day and doing my best to give myself permission to feel hard feelings and to lean on my dear ones when I need it. To look for the light when it seems that there is none.

In this same vein and right on time, something unexpected happened yesterday. A dear friend sent me a beautiful Twitter thread by Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg discussing Mr. Fred Rogers, his beliefs, and how he manifested those beliefs and ministry throughout his life and tenure on television. She discussed how he directly addressed some of the big issues and questions of the time, putting them into words and actions that children and adults alike could understand, demonstrating his love and care for all people who walk this mortal coil. Touched and inspired by the post, I retweeted it on my own Twitter page and then, seized by a heart-nudge, I screenshot every page of the thread, making sure I got everything, including Rabbi Ruttenberg’s name, and then posted the photos on this blog’s FB page, making sure to tag the original thread, as well as Rabbi Ruttenberg’s public FB page so that everyone who saw it could explore this wonderful woman of God’s posts and encouragements. These were not and are not my words, BUT I am privileged to be able to share them. Up to this point (2:49pm on 7/23/19), my post of the thread has had 3.4 thousand shares, and, in all its journeying, has reached over 139,600 people. I am agog at this, dear friends! Simply agog. But my aforementioned dear husband made a very poignant point.

“Is that really that surprising? People are looking for grace and goodness in their lives.”

I know that he is right, and I know that, for many of us, Mr. Rogers and his work were a formative influence in the development of that same grace and goodness, empathy and encouragement, in our lives. What I posted in that thread are not my words but those of a woman wise in life and faith who shares her heart, mind, and conviction with the world, in the hopes of “cultivating empathy, allowing for curiosity, and loving our neighbor has ourselves”. Those words are reaching, encouraging, and inspiring others beyond what I ever thought possible, and it’s amazing to watch.

I am so glad that I was able to share your words, Rabbi Ruttenberg, and thank you for the hope that they have given to this struggling woman. Thank you for reminding me that it’s okay to have hard feelings, and it’s even okay to struggle for a time.

Quiet vs. Silence


I am an introvert. That is how God fashioned me, and I have never minded it. I don’t mind being on my own, reading, watching Netflix, singing, dozing, and writing. It is how I rest, recharge, and recover from the rigors of the day-to-day. I like quiet.

Life is not very quiet.

I teach eighth grade; eighth-graders, and students in general, are not quiet. I also have a rambunctious six-year-old Gryffindor of a child; she is not quiet. Life is very rarely quiet, so I will grab it with both hands whenever I can find it.

For some of my dear ones, this concept is a bit perplexing: my need for quiet, specifically alone quiet. The need to be by myself. Some of them are the opposite: they don’t like to be alone. And I get that; it’s part of their extroverted personalities. It is part of the way God fashioned them, and I have never minded that. Recently, though, I found myself explaining to my husband that quiet and silence are two different things for me. Up until that point, I had not ever thought about it in that way. It boils down to these two realities: Quiet restores me, but silence destroys me.

I have written on silence in friendships/relationships and how it affects me before (https://awriterbecoming.com/2014/11/02/nablopomo-day-2-the-weight-of-silence/), and that is still true. Quiet, however, is different. I have read quite a few writings on the benefits of silence but have never found any that differentiate between silence and quiet in the manner that they do for me. There is much to be and that is said for the meditative benefits of silence, sinking into it in order to still your mind and soul. But that is not what I am talking about here. I am not talking about meditation. I am talking about restoration.

For me, quiet is restorative. Quiet often includes comforting ambient noise, providing a baseline to my heartbeat. The hum of the refrigerator in the kitchen or the air conditioning in the bedroom, even the trill of birdsong in a forest doesn’t bother me. Those things are part of the quiet, of the space in which I can recover. Quiet can be my choosing to spend the day without talking, thus letting my mind roam. Quiet can also be having the space and freedom to sing at the top of my lungs all day if I want, refilling the creativity of my soul. Just the other day, I managed to get home a few hours before my husband and daughter, and I indulged in a long hot shower, a fried chicken dinner, and an episode of Gentleman Jack. Yes, it was super indulgent and restorative in the middle of quite a crazy, stressful week.

Quietness feels natural to me. Quiet is stillness. It glides across the floor and invites me to sit and rest. For me, quiet must often be sought out. I need to specifically carve out time to be quiet and to slow down. Sometimes this is by myself; sometimes it is with very select company. Rarely does this happen in large groups, however. Fun can happen there, but quiet does not. Quiet helps to restore me, helps me recover.

Silence, on the other hand, is a completely different thing  for me. Silence, particularly in friendships/relationships, feels sullen and heavy. It strides across the floor, takes up space and air, and my stomach drops when its weight settles in the room. Whereas quiet is a natural state for me, silence feels deliberate, pointed. Silence feels like withholding, whether that is a withholding of communication, honesty, warmth, connection, or all of the above. It is, as a friend put it, “the absence of an outside world, the world that quiet gives us leave from. Silence is isolation.” Isolation. That is exactly what it feels like! When I encounter silence, that profound ‘nothing’, I feel like I am isolated from that person or situation. It hurts.  Just as when a fridge or a fan suddenly turns off and the stillness that comes is so disturbingly complete as to be startling, so silence can trigger a constant alarm in my soul. Alert! Alert! Something is wrong! And that constant tension shakes me apart. I cannot sleep when silence comes to stay. It is too heavy; it makes breathing feel like an Olympic feat. As I told my husband, silence destroys me.

Yes, quiet and silence are very different for me. In the midst of quiet, I can begin to calm. Silence puts me on pins and needles. Understanding that has brought me a measure of peace. Realizing that there is indeed a marked difference between the two for me has helped me put quite a few things into perspective, even if my view of silence and quiet differs from that of others. I am an introvert. I like quiet. That is how God fashioned me, and I have never minded it.

Meal and Oil


I do not often like to write about the hard stuff when I am in the middle of it. I feel too close, too rattled, too raw. But, often, that is when I am at my most honest, just as I am sure it is for you. Part of the work of Christmas within me, I believe, is that very honesty. I am apt, often, to sweep my own difficulty under the rug, or at least shove it out of sight. But that isn’t truthful, honest, and I want to be honest.

These past month has been stressful, as in ridiculously stressful; stressful enough to throw off my body’s clock and rhythms. I won’t downplay how it has felt. I have collapsed into weeping several times—on my classroom floor, in my car in the grocery store parking lot, on the phone with my husband after a failed trip to the BMV.

Alone in those moments, I cried out to God. I begged and pleaded, “I need a miracle!” I wanted to ask God to make it all better. I just wanted a new car to show up in my driveway (or at least one without a myriad of problems that need constant fixing) or for a windfall of money to solve all the issues. Instead, though, a completely different thought floated into my mind and out my mouth.

“Please, God, be my meal and oil.”

Meal and oil? Where did that come from?

In the Old Testament story of Elijah, it tells of his experience staying with a widow and her child. When Elijah asked her for some water to drink and bread to eat, she warned him that she only had a little meal (flour) and oil left. Enough to make a small cake for herself and her son, and then they were going to wait to die. But she took the little that she had and began to cook. In the end, she fed God’s prophet and herself and her son with it! Lo and behold, the next day, there was more! Not much more but enough more.

I have not thought about that particular Bible story in many years, but I remember being struck by it even as a child. So I have found myself repeatedly praying for God to be my meal and oil—to hold our cars together just one more day, to give me enough grace to deal with my students today.

Sometimes, day by day is what I need. I know me: I would look ahead into a year’s worth of tomorrows if I could, just to make sure everything would indeed work out. Not necessarily as I hope but just work out at all. So, for now, perhaps this is the best for me, the best that I can do: expect the best that God can do. Expect him to give me what I need daily, as I learned to pray as a kid. “Give us this day our daily bread…”

Dear God, please be my meal and oil today.