Holding the Days with Gentleness


2016 is almost over and what a year it’s been. I’m not entirely sure what to make of it now that I sit and think about it but I will try to put word to thought.

This year, my watchword was grace—to give grace as well as to recognize it when it is given me and to also give it to myself. I have spent this year trying to be mindful of opportunities to show grace, as well as to accept it when I receive it. I also worked to be mindful of opportunities to study and explore grace and its facets. This year, I spent my NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month) in November centering my writings on grace. I explored what I knew, what I have experienced, though, and considered, and even found new levels of thought on what it means to give grace, experience it, choose it, and even to be graceless. It was, honestly, one of the best writing experiences of my life and it renewed a desire in me to write, and I am determined to write as often and as much as possible in the coming year.

This year, I went back to teaching full time. It was a quick decision after many, many applications, interviews, and then coming to terms with being home with Elizabeth for a final year. I got a call, interviewed, and made a decision all in two to three days. I had to sacrifice some things, such as seeing my baby off on her first day of daycare/preschool, but I knew that it was the right decision for my family. Has it been easy, such a quick and large life transition? No, not really, and it has taken me almost the entire semester to feel as though I have found my feet or that I belong in teaching again (still not entirely sure on the latter but for now, functional will do). I am still struggling a bit to find a life balance again—to find the correct levels in time for daughter, husband, my self-care, and my writing–but I have learned and am learning a great deal from the teachers and students I am working with now. At the same time, my girl is enjoying school and missing her friends now that we are at the tail end of Christmas vacation. She is doing wonderfully, growing quickly, learning so very much, and I am thankful beyond measure for that.

My husband has just completed a leadership development program, which I am buttons-bursting proud of him for sticking with. I know that it was a testing for him and I am ever so proud of his perseverance and determination to get everything out of it that he could. He works hard each and every day and gives all he can as a teacher and a pastor and I am constantly awed and inspired by him. This year, we celebrated ten years of marriage surrounded by friends and full of laughter and good food. It was the best method by which to celebrate (well, that and the new Star Trek film) and I am so glad that we were able to do so. I love you, darling, today and every day and even beyond that.

As 2016 ends, I have been thinking and praying about a watchword, a word of intention for the coming year. This year’s word was grace and the year before was intentioned by courage and kindness. So far, the word that has come to me is gentleness. What does it mean to be gentle? To act and react, listen, speak, and be with gentleness?

With all the fear, the worry, the anger, the darkness, what does it mean for me to be gentle? How can I be gentle with the hearts that are afraid and hurting? How can I be gentle with those who do not understand or don’t want to?

How can I be gentle with my dear ones? Gentle with their feelings, their thoughts, with honesty, in my reactions and discipline as we raise our daughter, with my loved ones’ precious hearts and souls?

How can I be gentle in my job, with my students and coworkers, with their humanity that may break out in difficult ways sometimes, much like my own?

How can I be gentle in my faith, in speaking love and kindness and giving grace to others? In following the example of the God I claim to believe in and the Jesus I claim to follow?

How can I show gentleness in my craft, in what I write and how I post on social media, the corners that I build in the world around me, both real and online? How can I be gentle and bold and courageous at the same time?

I want to hold what people give me, what they trust me with, gingerly and carefully. I want to be gentle with souls, with words, with trust, with hearts and feelings. I want to do this for others because I know how much I want it for me. I want people to be gentle with me, with my thoughts, feelings, words, hopes, dreams, heart, and soul. Just as I know how much I need grace and so I try to give it, so it goes with gentleness. I know how much I desire it; why should others not be the same? Why should I not try to give the reactions that I would want to receive?

Everyone is going through or has gone through something; everyone could use some gentleness in a world so rough and tumble. This year may be hard, this year may be scary, but I will not let that stop me. I will not let it harden me either. I will not let it take my softness away but, if anything, I will let it increase, let it seep into my touch, fill my words, prompt me to listen more than I speak. May this coming year find me holding others with gentleness and radical love, continuing to act in grace, having courage, and being kind.

Farewell, 2016.

Welcome, 2017. I call you blessed and look forward to what we have to learn together.

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Spoken and Broken Together


Maybe you and I were never meant to be complete.
Could we just be broken together?
If you can bring your shattered dreams and I‘ll bring mine,
Could healing still be spoken and save us?
The only way we’ll last forever is broken together. – “Broken Together”, Casting Crowns

My Wednesday morning started with the discovery of something being created that, honestly, excites me on a level that I cannot quite explain. Round Table Companies has started up a Kickstarter campaign for the development of a card game called “Vulnerability is Sexy”. The founder of Round Table Companies explains the game like this: “We believe everyone has a story to share, and our stories—the proud ones and the not-so-proud ones—are what make us beautiful. That’s why we created Vulnerability is Sexy, a card game that helps players reveal their true selves and give each other some of life’s most beautiful gifts: time, truth, and connection.” Yes, this excites me. It is hard to explain exactly why but it does. Over the past several years, I have learned the benefits and blessings of vulnerability, as well as come face to face, again and again, with the fears associated with it. I love that the point of this game is to create safety and hold space (two phrases/ideas that are well-known now in the vulnerability movement) for people to be their most authentic selves. I don’t see it as being a party game so much as a good endeavor for a night with good friends, a chance to hear as well as be heard.

As the years have gone by, I have met so many people who have suffered in the same silence and fear of vulnerability and mask-removal that I have–it was even one of the first deep conversations my husband and I had–and It breaks my heart. It has become more and more important to me to create and hold those sort of safe spaces for people as best I can. I have faced my fears of being vulnerable coming true, and I don’t doubt that I have likely been that fear come true for others. For the latter, I am most profoundly sorry, more so than I can adequately say. Now, I find my heart deeply drawn to creating and being a safe space. Moreover, I am learning just what it means to be  a safe space, whatever that might be for the other person(s). That might mean telling/reassuring them that, yes, it will, in fact, be okay; they will be okay. Or perhaps it’s offering an outside perspective. Perhaps it is not offering anything but your presence, to be a breathing, present life on the other end of the phone line while they cry. Not offering advice or a fix or a silver lining, but just showing up and staying there through their hard moments. Maybe being that safe space means reaching out to someone when they are sure that they have screwed up so badly that they are sure no one wants them around.

Later that morning, as I drove home from the gym, a song played on the radio that I had not heard before. It is called “Broken Together” by Casting Crowns (I have quoted part of it at the top of this post). I know that the song is written around the story of a marriage but vulnerability applies to any close relationship. I was struck by that idea of being broken together and the image it developed in my mind. The image is that of bringing the shards and pieces of the strong yet delicate clay pots that hold our selves and souls and pouring IMAG0151them out at each other’s feet. As those pieces fall and gently clatter upon the floor, they tumble and mix. They don’t voice any expectations, any rejections; they just are together in that brokenness. You know what else is beautiful about bringing those broken pieces together? There is no telling those shattered pieces apart. In our brokenness, we are the same, we are together. And when those pieces are put back together, it will be something new and beautiful, mortared together with love, empathy, camaraderie, and acceptance. We will have spoken healing to each other, even if that speaking is only the words, “Me, too. You’re not alone.”

We can be spoken and broken together. Shattered and crushed together. Sorted and pieced back together. Molded and melded back together. That is what vulnerability allows. That is what it accomplishes.

Will it always work out that way? You want the truth? Of course, you do; you’ve already experienced it. No, it won’t. As a dearly-loved friend of mine wrote:

“Caring isn’t all shiny belly badges getting glowy in Care-a-lot. There’s blood no one ever sees spilled. Tears no one sees shed. There’s a soft violence to caring. Not always, never always, but the potential’s always there. When we care, we make ourselves available, vulnerable.” (Daniel Youngren)

If there is a soft violence to caring, that possibility of deep pain, then vulnerability takes courage. Deep courage. Brené Brown calls vulnerability “our most accurate measurement of courage”. How willing are you to be courageous? To step out in that vulnerability, to be broken together, even with the chance (and, yes, likelihood) of at least some pain? When you know that the good that can come from it will produce something deep and wide and high and beautiful in your relationships? Can we be safe spaces for each other? Spaces where we can come, pour out our pieces and broken together, and have our healing spoken to each other’s hearts, souls, and minds? I would like that. Wouldn’t you?

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Photo credits:
*Ceramic pot pieces – http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-zYHdwVRZSA8/T1HM7afRoDI/AAAAAAAABc4/ZMyn5sHvyUE/s1600/IMAG0151.jpg
*Broken Clay Heart – https://claypotbroken.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/broken-clay-heart.jpg

Courage: The First Rung on the Ladder


Last night, I was reading Wordables.com before bed and they had a series of quotes from Maya Angelou, some of which I had never read before. This one struck me particularly and I shared it on my personal Facebook page before I headed off to bed with the added comment of “Have courage and be kind”.

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It set me to thinking. I would usually be one to say that love is the greatest virtue BUT, the more I thought about it, the more I agree along similar lines of Ms. Angelou’s quote. Without stepping out in courage, how can we show love? Without courage, how can we choose to be kind to strangers? Without courage, how can we champion justice? Without courage, how can we face hardships and challenges in order to be the best version of ourselves that we can be?

Courage is not merely running into the face of danger. Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is having an absolutely awful day but being willing to listen to someone else’s awful day and determining to try your best again tomorrow. Courage is saying “hello” to someone who is grieving, even if you might not know what else to say to them. Courage is letting someone know you are thinking about them, even if you know you might not hear back from them. Courage is facing that classroom full of students, each with large and individual needs, and doing your absolute best for the benefit of their education. Courage is showing love in the midst of anger, grace in the midst of hurt, kindness in the midst of strife, integrity in a world of rationalization and dishonesty, and compassion when surrounded by indifference.

Love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. All admirable, all life-giving. But I think that almost any and every virtue we can practice or demonstrate starts with this: the courage to step out and say, “I will.”

I will try again tomorrow.

I will take a breath before I respond.

I will listen instead of talk.

I will say hello even though it is hard.

I will give.

I will help.

I will be there.

I will admit I was wrong.

I will do my best to make it right.

I will show love, have courage, and be kind.

Butterscotch’d Courage


I posted this on Facebook this morning but then…I thought it worth a share here. It’s been a good morning so far. A capstone to what has ended up being a good week.

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This is long but entirely worth it. The color of my courage today is gold, like bubbling butterscotch baths, and smelling of cinnamon, cider, and crackling fireplace. And so I share with you once of my favorite passages of literature.

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Lye lifted September up suddenly and put her down in the first tub, which was really more like an oak barrel, the kind you store wine in, if you need to store rather a lot of wine, for it was enormous. September’s head ducked immediately under the thick, bright gold water. When she bobbed up, the smell of it wrapped her up like a warm scarf: the scent of fireplaces crackling and warm cinnamon and autumn leaves crunching underfoot. She smelled cider and a rainstorm coming. The gold water clung to her in streaks and clumps, and she laughed. It tasted like butterscotch.

“This is the tub for washing your courage,” Lye said, her voice as even and calm as ever, performing her task, grief packed away for the duration of a bath.

“I didn’t know one’s courage needed washing!” gasped September as Lye poured a pitch of water over her head. Or that one needs to be naked for that sort of washing, she thought to herself.

Lye poured a bucketful of golden water over September’s head. “When you are born,” the golem said softly, “your courage is new and clean. You are brave enough for anything: crawling off of staircases, saying your first words without fearing that someone will think you are foolish, putting strange things in your mouth. But as you get older, you courage attracts gunk and crusty things and dirt and fear and knowing how bad things can get and what pain feels like. By the time you’re half-grown, your courage barely moves at all, it’s so grunged up with living. So every once in a while, you have to scrub it up and get the words going or else you’ll never be brave again. Unfortunately, there are not so many facilities in your word that provide the kind of services we do. So most people go around with grimy machinery, when all it would take is a bit of spit and polish to make them paladins once more, bold knights and true.”

Lye broke off one of her deep blue fingers and dropped it into the tub. Immediately, a creamy froth bubbled up, clinging to September’s skin and tickling.

“Your finger!” she cried.

“Don’t fear, little one. It doesn’t hurt. My mistress said, ‘Give of yourself, and it will return to you as new as new can be.’ And so my fingers do, when the bathers have gone.”

September looked inside herself to see if her courage was shining up. She didn’t feel any different, besides the pleasure of a hot bath and clean skin. A little lighter, maybe, but she could not be sure.

~ The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making by Catherine M. Valente, pages 59-61