Bracing from Buoyancy to Letdown


Last week, I rode a high brought on by the spectacular live performance of Jesus Christ Superstar that aired on NBC’s network on Easter Sunday, starring John Legend, Sara Bareilles, and Brandon Victor Dixon. I had never seen a production of JCS or listened to any of the soundtrack before, so this was an entirely new experience for me. Godspell I was familiar with, but I had never gotten to know JCS, although I knew of it.

All last week, the strains and melody of “Everything’s Alright” were the undercurrent of my days. I even found myself singing the first stanza of the song to a student who was nervous and stressed about a test they had in my class. All week, this musical—this story of Judas, Jesus, and deep, soul-searing humanity—buoyed me up and kept me afloat. The actors’ faces have shown up in my dreams. Their voices have filled my quiet moments, my heart and soul birthing prayers from the lyrics they breathe and belt.

Jesus Christ Superstar has been a Godsend of a soul lift, one that I have needed deeply and dearly. It has been a difficult few months, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. I have felt heavy, off-center, not myself. Nothing has felt aligned—not my emotions, my prayers/time with God, my sleep, my libido, my energy, my reactions and responses, nothing. Often, all I want to do after a full day of teaching is hide in my room with my earbuds in and not speak or have to spend spoons on anyone. Of course, unfortunately, this means my family suffers from my lack of presence and being present. For weeks, it’s been this way, this off-centeredness, so to feel the buoyancy of this beautiful musical was nothing short of a miracle. As we head into a new week, though, I find myself fearing.

I fear the letdown. Buoyancy like this doesn’t last as the novelty becomes commonplace. I fear the shine falling off, the powerful lyrics becoming ordinary as I listen to them over and over. I fear that the off-centeredness returning, the heavy tiredness settling on my shoulders and sapping my spoons and energy. It is like the winter weather, which seems to refuse to let go as, morning after morning, now into April, I wake to snow on the ground where previously there was none. Like that unexpected snow, I silently worry that the low places will return, and I’ll crash back to earth again. That sudden stop hurts, like a lot.

This past weekend, as I embarked to the grocery store on my own (a rare thing), I kept my earbuds in as I did my shopping, humming and mouthing lyrics to JCS’s pieces, and there was a freedom there. A soaring amidst the mundane, and I realized how much I have missed it. I’ve missed feeling freedom. Freedom to be me and enjoy what brings me life and joy. Even though I am afraid that it won’t last, for now I will hold onto it. Hold onto that freedom, that soaring, those miracles amidst the mundane. I will keep on singing, sharing, and hoping that this is just the beginning of feeling like myself again.

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You Can Be Who You Are, Not Who You Were.


This week,  I began reading Jen Hatmaker’s new book Of Mess and Moxie and, from the first chapter, she has my heart by the ear.  In the first chapter, entitled “Unbranded”, Jen asserts that we don’t have to be who we first were. In other words, no matter what we have experienced or gone through, triumphed or failed at, we are not stuck.

I was in therapy once and by once I mean for a few months. It was during my second year of my teaching career and the job was rough, let me tell ya. Therapy did me good, I think. It probably would have done me more good had I stayed with that therapist longer. But I did offer some clarity on a few issues that I was dealing with. I also have numerous friends who have been through or are currently in the process of therapy or counseling. I have talked friends into getting counseling. I have been a de facto counselor myself (if you can call it that when one is in high school). I know that there are depths of ache and pain and trauma that friends and dear ones have experience that I will never fully understand. I also know that there are depths to my own self that I am still (constantly) learning, barriers that can be harmful to cross, and depths of my heart that are scary to explore.

I’m saying all of that to say, especially to you dear ones who are in the midst of this experience right now–in the midst of getting help, in the midst of taking those small steps every day towards healing and better–it’s okay. It’s okay to acknowledge that you need help. It’s okay to get help. It’s okay to see your damaged parts. It’s okay to start working to heal and repair them It’s okay to be working toward being someone different than you were. That season that you were in, those experiences you had, you don’t have to be that person anymore.

That early version of yourself, that season you were in, even the phase you are currently experiencing–it is all good and purposeful or at least useful and created a fuller, nuanced you and contributed to your life’s meaning, but you are not stuck in a category just because you were once branded that way. Just because something was does not mean it will always be. (Hatmaker, Of Mess and Moxie, 4)

Yes, some of the things you have experience in life may have been horrible, traumatizing, soul-rendingly painful, or even top-of-the-mountain triumphant (so-much-so that you wonder how you’ll ever live up to it from here on out). But they do not define you, dear one. You are not stuck in their category, their branding doesn’t own you. You may have been a victim; now you can become an advocate. Maybe you excelled; perhaps, in time, you’ll be the encourager. Where you were traumatized, you can be come triumphant (even if it’s the smallest victory over your pain).

You do not have to be who you were.

There is no shame in the work you are doing. The work to heal, get better, discover you again. The work you are doing is good work. I would even dare say that the work you are doing is holy work. The work of the mind, heart, and soul, to build a foundation on solid rock and the next chapter of your life atop it. You are doing good, dear one. I can guarantee you that.

You are doing good. Keep going. Keep doing. Give yourself grace as you do the work, too. The smallest step forward is still a step forward. The smallest victory is still a victory. Hold fast. Have courage. Breathe. Step forward. You can do this. And we’ve got you.

 

**Many thanks to Jen Hatmaker and her beautiful, heart-filled writing. You can pick up her newest book, Of Mess and Moxie, from thomasnelson.com, amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, or wherever you buy your books.**

Holding Time Gently


Here is how I usually feel that I am dealing with my time: My days/hours are laid out in specifically shaped or metered boxes, like a weekly pill container. Each box is colored differently and I have roughly 18 “pills” of time in my hand with which to fill them (because I honestly need at least 5-6 hours to sleep or I’m just not functional). And so I count out my hours into the boxes – Work, Family, Home Care, Errands, Cooking, Listening, Driving, etc. I try, try, TRY to hold back a few bits of time just for me: things like reading, writing, taking a long hot bath, exercising, devotional time, and naps. But there’s usually something “more important” that requires doing. I am rubbish at asking for help of any kind, and so my self-care ends up getting shoved into a really short amount of time and not feeling like self-care really at all. Usually it’s me sitting on the couch after the almost nightly battle to get my daughter to bed, too tired to think, much less read or write.

I feel as though I am grasping at time, holding onto it for dear life, lamenting that there is not more of it as it slips through my fingers. Like sand, it leaves behind only tiny grains, minuscule bits of itself that don’t seem to amount to much of anything. But that is not true of sand, is it? Though its individual grains are minute, all together they create vast deserts and snow-white beaches and ocean floors that stretch on for uncountable miles. All of that is those tiny bits and pieces, not on their own but together. Perhaps I have been holding my time so tightly that I am looking at it wrongly. While my introverted soul yearns for extended blocks of retreat and refreshment, I should not–must not— discount the small pockets of time with which I am gifted, even if they are very small.

A few nights ago, I gifted myself the time involved to take a hot shower with all the lavender amenities. It boosted my spirit and refilled some of my dwindling spoon drawer to feel fresh, clean, soft, and have such a soothing scent wafting around me. It was only half an hour but there was intention behind it. The intention of care and refreshment for myself, of aloneness and quiet, even if just for a little while. It was not a week-long isolated retreat but it did help, that one half-hour.

Last year, I wrote about (and even gave a commencement speech on) not discounting the value of smallness. How fitting that here I am, a year later, reminding myself of this very oh-so-important lesson, when my own well-being and all-around health hang in the balance.

Fifteen minutes of exercise may not be the hour-long gym workouts that I was used to doing when I was a SAHM but it is something.

Ten minutes to read before bed isn’t finishing a book in a day as I did of old but it is something.

“Tea-Time Quite-Time” with my daughter isn’t an afternoon alone in a coffee shop but those quiet moments together of both of us watching the lovely “Sarah & Duck” with our tea before bedtime are something.

Putting my earbuds in of a Sunday afternoon and turning on my rain app isn’t spending a whole sleepy, rainy day in bed but dozing amidst those soothing sounds for a little while is something.

Friends, I am learning to hold my time more gently, to remember and admit that the small bits I can get, that stick here and there can indeed be helpful, refreshing, and sustaining. And, bit by bit, those fragments add up, just as grains of sand, together, can create a vast, beautiful landscape. If you are walking this path of learning and viewpoint shifting, I want to encourage you. We can be gentler with ourselves, gentler with our time and the realities of our lives. Sometimes our realities do not have space for week-long retreats for our soul. We can still find rest in the small moments, brief though they may be. A shut bedroom door (or closet door even). A second cup of coffee. Ten minutes with a book or video game or podcast. We can find those little grains of time that will add up to refreshment for us. Trust me, I wish us all extended time to rest and relax but, until then, I’ll be gently collecting grains alongside you.

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When a Smile is Needed


It’s the Thursday of Spring Break. Only a few more days of relative freedom. So why am I smiling, you ask? Because I NEED to smile. This week has been gray and largely low-feeling, especially at night. Not the best headspace for Spring Break. I’m off but everyone else is not. There are responsibilities that keep us at home and unable to drive to/stay out late with friends of an evening. Grading waits menacingly on my kitchen table like a sword of Damocles dangling over my head. So I NEED to smile today. I need to remember the good.

*My daughter in my floppy sunhat and her heart-shaped sunglasses ready for her “beach party” at preschool

*Kisses and “I love you’s” from my husband

*Unexpected, wonderful time with friends

*Reading, writing, and nap time in a quiet house

*Often-read Scripture verses touching my heart with new relevance and encouragement

*Rain pattering on my window panes and thunder growling and purring through the clouds

Today I need to remember the good. Today I need to smile. Today I need to choose the good, choose contentment. Today I need determination over motivation. Happiness is not just a happening today; today it needs to be a decision, a choice for me.

So here’s a smile. I hope it helps yours along, too, dear one.

 

Fragile. Handle with Care: Being Gentle With Myself


I have been sick, quite sick, for the past month. Actually, I haven’t been able to shake this cold/sinus stuff since September (yay for teaching and a toddler starting preschool). Nevertheless, the New Year came and with it the time to start on my goals, one of the chiefest being to get back into a healthy routine of activity and exercise. This past semester has just shattered my momentum and I have lost a good deal of what I worked for two years to gain. So I start again. But, because of being sick (and because, you know, breathing is a thing), I am having to start back slowly. Too much activity will leave me wheezing and coughing, my throat sore and dry. So I am having to be extra gentle with myself, not something I am used to doing. I am used to pushing myself. I want to push, pull, work, strive, and mold myself back into that shape and tone that I was so proud of back in July. So, right now, it is proving hard to handle myself gently, but I have to or else I will hurt myself and ruin any chance of continuing towards my goal for the foreseeable future. I have to listen to when my body cries “Enough!” and believe that, for the nonce, it really is (and has to be) enough.

This year’s word of intention is gentleness and, ironically, here I am: at the beginning of the year, having to apply that gentleness to my own self. I am having to sit down when I come home from work. Perhaps the dishes go undone or the laundry unfolded of a night as I choose to lie on the couch instead, after Daughter has been put to bed, and I’m having to remind myself that doing just that is okay.  I have never been good at being gentle with myself, so I have found that I need reminders. The graphic below from Alia Joy – Writer‘s likewise-title article is now the lock screen graphic on my phone. I have a chalkboard that hangs in my kitchen and on it is the quote: “Be easier on yourself. If being hard on yourself worked, it would have worked by now.” These are reminders that I have to keep on repeat in my mind and in my heart. I find it ever so much easier to say them to others, admonish gentleness with themselves, and believe their truth than I do when I am the one in need of the reminder. But I do need it. I need gentleness, too! Particularly from myself.

So, while it is frustrating and a bit galling to have to slow down and just concentrate on the small things in my goals for now, it is what I need. I need to hold myself softly and gently for, right now, no matter how I may feel mentally, I am physically a bit fragile, so I have to let my ability catch up to my determination.

It is okay for you to be gentle with yourself, too. If you think you need permission, you have it. There are times when we all are fragile and need handling with care. So, as we continue on into the second week of this new year, let’s check in on how we are handling ourselves, how we are treating ourselves. Could you use a little gentleness, a little lightening of the goals, of the have-to’s? If so, do it. Be gentle with yourself. I know it’s hard and I know the fear of falling behind/failing/losing our place/etc. is always there, but know that you aren’t alone. We all could a little gentleness from ourselves now and then and it’s worth it to learn to give it. And I’m learning to believe that.

 

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Graphic from and belonging to Alia Joy’s post on incourage.me

 

Everyday Grace


There are few places where I have learned, been offered, and practiced grace more than in my job. I’m a teacher. Middle school English and Language Arts. Yeah. See what I am driving at? School provides an obscene number of opportunities. Education, definitely, but also for growth, maturity, dealing with failure, kindness, and, of course, grace. Every moment is a big-decision moment, and every student is a potential big decision. Therefore, I have to judge each one, weigh each one, sometimes in only a thought’s worth of time.

There are times when a child just desperately needs grace. Even the most ornery of teenagers. They don’t know what to call it. They don’t know what to ask for. But they need it and they know they need it. They need grace. They need to hear, “It’s okay. You’re okay. Take a breath. It’s okay.” Then you will see those captured lungs exhale and they actually start the act of breathing again. The tension releases maybe just a bit but every little bit helps.

It’s rather a microcosm of life as a whole, that moment, isn’t it? We all, at one time or another (usually more), desperately need to be told that it’s okay. Our shortcomings aren’t the end of the world. Our mistakes haven’t destroyed all we hold dear. We aren’t left helpless and hopeless. We just need to hear:

It’s okay.

You’re okay.

You will be okay.

In those moments, we all need someone to extend a little grace to us. For some of us, it’s often the permission that we need to give ourselves a bit of grace. I’ll admit it, I’m about to hit that wall, I think. Thanksgiving is coming and, with being back to full-time teaching, that makes tidying up and readying the house for company a much bigger chore than when I was a stay-at-home mom and could parcel the work out over more hours in a day. I don’t have nearly as much time now to Tetris away the toys in the living room and the everyday stuff on the kitchen table, air out the house, rearrange the cupboards, and clear off the kitchen counters. I know myself and my stress level well enough to know that, (much) sooner than I’d like, I’m going to need someone to tell me, “It’s okay. It doesn’t have to be perfect. The family will have a great Thanksgiving no matter what.” I’ll need someone to remind me to give myself permission to see okay as good enough, permission to not be perfect, permission to just be.

Will you stay close? I’ll stay close to you, too.

It’s okay. We are okay.

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Bright Like Iron (Weed)


Can you guess my favorite fall color? It’s not the rubies, golds, bronzes, or sunset oranges in the treetops. No. My favorite fall color lives much closer to earth. My favorite fall color inhabits the ditches along the highways and springs up in the fence rows hedging country roads. It bursts bright and refreshing among the fiery trees. My favorite fall color is purple, but specifically the purple of prairie ironweed.

In all the burnt and blazing warmth of autumn, ironweed touches the color palette with coolness. Something puzzles me, however. I don’t know why the ironweed blooms now, in the midst of fall, rather than in the glory of spring; but, even if I don’t know why it is, I know that it have a point. This conspicuous bloom makes me smile, the gleam of royal purple like a beacon of life in a world preparing to hibernate.  Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy fall with its cooler air and brilliant color show. But I always remember that the weather is wending its way towards the silent grey cold of winter. A flash of ironweed reminds me of what will come after winter, after the cold, the silence, and the hard freeze. Rebirth, Renewal. Glorious spring. Ironweed reminds us that light and color and renewal will come again on the other side of the oncoming winter. I want to be like that.

I want to be bright like ironweed.

I want to be a reminder of the life that waits beyond the hardship, the struggle, the trials, and aching heartbreak. I want to be a hand for someone to grasp when it feels like their world is smoldering around them. A safe place amidst the storm.

I want to be bright like ironweed.

To be bright like ironweed is to stand as an island in the river for those who are raked over and shattered on the rocks of life. To show them my own scarred back, often hidden from sight, and assure them that their pain is valid and real and understood.

To be bright like ironweed is to be an alcove in the storm for those who are tossed and thrown about by the waves and whipped by the icy wind. To show them my own windburned skin and assure them that the storm will end someday and endurance and healing are possible.

I remember those who have been ironweed in my own autumns, those who have been bright spots amidst what can be the wearying blaze of every day. I recall what they have done and given, standing stalwart in the midst of emotional tumult or climbing down to sit in the low dark with me. I recall their rejoicing  with me in my triumphs, elation at my joy, and their love splashed over me in dry seasons. I want to learn from these people about  that brightness. I want to learn from them about living my purpose, whatever that might be, to be whatever help I might be. I do not know why the ironweed blooms when it does but I know that it is a blessing to me. I may not know exactly what impact I might have on the people and world around me but I can do my best to make it a good one. I know what has been done for me and how important it is to my life and my soul. I should like to do the same for others, to gift them with the same support, hope, and love that has been showered on me and has bolstered my spirit.

I want to be bright like ironweed.

 

[Featured Photo Credit: http://agardenforall.com%5D