Everlasting Words


This morning, I sat on my front porch in an unseasonably cool breeze and set myself to the task of continuing to read through books for our new curriculum adoption. One of said books is Jacqueline Woodson’s memoir-in-verse Brown Girl Dreaming. As I read her fluidly-beautiful narrative set in chronological poems, two in particular stood out to me: “The Beginning” and “Composition Notebook”. These chapters capture so beautifully exactly how I feel about words and writing. I do not recall the first notebook I received but I have a feeling that my reaction was much like hers, coupled with the desire to start writing right now!

My daughter has recently begun writing her first independent narrative story, appropriately a fan-fiction piece about one of her favorite cartoon shows. I cannot express my joy at watching her get excited to put her ideas down in writing. It is simply amazing to see her “creating art with words” as she put it today.

I have been writing for approximately 33 years — stories, poems, song lyrics, speeches, essays, and articles — and I hold it as one of my greatest talents and delights in life. Lately, however, writing has felt incredibly difficult. Not the words themselves, truly, but, as Rachel Macy Stafford so succinctly stated the other day, “it’s hard to publish words in the world right now”. I want to write to help and heal, to be authentic and open, to welcome those who might need something deeper in a world full of quick quips that lodge in our brains and hearts like darts. But I am unsure of how to do so or what to say when I am struggling so deeply with feeling existentially exhausted myself.

I am trying but so often feel as though my trying isn’t enough. These chapters of Woodson’s book, however, feel like a tug on my heart, reminding me of what I love (to write) and why I love to do it (because it might mean something, somewhere, to someone). I want to embrace the infinity of words, “how wonderfully on and on they go” (62). Even if it is not perfect (or what I think is perfect), even if it feels too open, too honest, it might be just what some other soul needs in that moment. If only I am but brave enough to set that offering of words down to be what it will be.

So today I share these words that gave life to me today with you, dear ones.

Advent 2021: Peace in the Small Spaces


It is early morning as your eyes open. You can see the square of light around the curtains, lending just enough light to see the room by. No one and nothing else is stirring yet, and the world is quiet. As you lie there–not moving yet–in that moment before your brain can begin to work, there is utter calm. It is that Christmas morning anticipation or the feeling of lingering in a sweet dream. It is what feels like the rarest of moments these days: a peaceful one.

Our world is one in turmoil, off-balance–unequal, inequitable, at odds and conflict constantly. Peace often feels like an ephemeral dream, untouchable, ungraspable, unattainable. But it is not so dire. Often peace is a moment, not a movement. Sometimes where we find peace is not always the same place. Sometimes peace is found in a glass of lemonade on a shady summer porch. Sometimes it is found in the paragraphs and pages of an often-read book or one’s favorite Bible verses. At times, it is found in the early-morning stillness or the late-night settled quiet. Peace may be ushered in by candles and quiet prayers, a dog’s snuffly cuddle, or a child’s loving hug.

As we move through this Advent season, let us not overlook the small, slow moments and slices of peace in our rush to make Christmas what we think it should be. As it says in Romans, God is willing to fill us with His peace, if we are willing to trust and hope in Him. Let us be willing to pause in all our going to remember Christ’s coming and arrival. Let us rest in quiet, just as Mary and Joseph were made to rest in the simple stable into which He was born. As we arrange our Nativities on mantle pieces, tables, and shelves, let not forget one of the dearest names for our Lord: the Prince of Peace.

He will hold us in that peace, in those moments, and speak His whispers of love into our hearts. This Christmas season, things may still feel a little unsteady, not yet “normal”. Even in that difference, peace can be found. It can be found here our places of worship and reflection, in the music, the prayers, and silent worship. In the remembrance that God has never left you alone. Not for a moment, even the darkest ones. He is here to fold us in close, hold us in His peace, and give us hope that continues beyond Christmas.

= = =

Right now, She Reads Truth is offering this beautiful 8×10 art print that reads “I Will Provide Peace in This Place”. A gorgeous, loving reminder for the entire year round. Gift orders placed by Dec. 7 will be shipped in time for Christmas.

https://www.shopshereadstruth.com/products/peace-in-this-place-art-print

*I am in no way partnered with She Reads Truth. This was just a lovely coincidence. ^_^

Advent 2021: The Light of Hope


It seemed impossible to fathom that 2021 could be harder than 2020 in any way and yet…it is easy to see that it has surpassed all those non-expectations. In many ways, 2021 has proven indelibly harder on our hearts, minds, and bodies than the previous year. In that difficulty, hope has often seemed to wane. As we enter this season of Advent, of preparation and arrival, let us not allow despair and difficulty to rob us of that most blessed gift: hope. 

Hope is an everyday treasure. In Neil Gaiman’s famous series The Sandman, two characters have a contest, a seemingly simple game but with dire stakes.  It is The Oldest Game, a game of imagination with each character trying to best the other, to come up with the Final Idea.

One character claims, “I am the dark, the end of everything. The end of universes, gods, worlds…of everything.” 

Into the bleakness they painted, Dream of the Endless replied…simply, powerfully:  “I am Hope.”  

To this there can be no reply, no defeat, no destruction because hope is everywhere to be found. In every heart and mind, in every space in life. As the poet Alexander Pope wrote, hope springs eternal. No matter how we suffer, how we hurt, or how little light can be seen, our eyes will always seek out and find it–even the merest pinprick of light in the darkness, the tiniest bit of hope to cling to.

“I am Hope,” is God’s gentle whisper to worn and weary hearts at this onset of Advent. As we begin this journey into the Christmas season, Hope is at our side. As we wend towards the end of 2021, sometimes with tremulous steps, Hope is under our arm, supporting us. Even the merest mustard seed of faith that things will get better and that God will show us the way lends strength and power to Hope. Hope is in a hand outstretched to help, in celebrating a hard task done, and even in the quickest of kind notes and gentle acknowledgements from our dear ones. Hope is in the bringing-together words of “Me, too. You aren’t alone.” 

Hope is what holds us aloft and all together. Hope in life, hope in God and His love, hope in His light. As the first Advent candle glows, may we find hope in its flame and in the Word it prepares us for.

Romans 15:13: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

“I Take Pride in You.”


“I have said before that you have such a place in our hearts that we would live or die with you. I have spoken to you with great frankness; I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds.” – 2 Corinthians 7:3b-4

While Paul spoke these words in greeting to the Corinthian church, I read those words “I take pride in you”, and I can just hear the smile in God’s voice.

As we come into Pride Month, Dear Ones. I want have some very specific prayers for you, simple and from the heart.

I pray that you may know that you are loved.

I pray that you may know that you are accepted and significant.

I pray that you may know comfort, strength, joy, and feeling at home in your own skin.

I pray that you will feel love just splashing down on you.

I love you. God loves you, and He has called you what you are: very good.

The Netflix Category We All Desperately Need


A few weeks ago, The Great British Baking Show returned to Netflix, and I sat down to figuratively devour new episodes and just bask in the “nice-ness” of it. If you have been reading my blog for a while now, you may have run across my post For the Love of Sweet (Baked) Community where I detailed my love for GBBS and the impetus for that love, which is the sweet community they have built and maintain on GBBS. People being genuinely kind and encouraging and helpful to each other, never mind the fact that they are in competition, that just fills my softie Hufflepuff heart.

As I began to watch this new season of GBBS, I found myself crying and babbling soggily to my husband about how much I had missed this, how much I needed this, something this sweet and good and kind in a world that feels as though it’s constantly falling apart. It felt like the sweetest of steadying hugs in a time that is consistently leaving me wobbly.

“This is what the world needs!” I exclaimed, “Netflix should have a category JUST for shows like this!”

“Write it,” he replied matter-of-factly, Write up the listicle then. What shows would you put in that category? Write it.”

And while I am sure it has been done already, perhaps even many times, I think I shall.

Netflix, you are hereby on notice! I expect to see a category of this type populated with the loveliest of shows before this hellish year is over.

**Shows with Relatively Low Stakes Where People Make Beautiful/Delicious Things and are Genuinely Nice to Each Other.**

The Great British Baking Show – people making delicious baked goods; challenging their skills; encouraging and helping each other.

The Great British Baking Show: Masterclass – Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry: baking together for everyday and holidays, cute quips and delightful conversation; genuine friendship shining through.

Lords and Ladles – world class chefs and friends Derry Clarke, Catherine Fulvio, and Paul Flynn: sharing duties, learning about food and its relationship to history and different families, historical research and context to make a meal memorable.

Making It – hosted by real-life and on-screen friends Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman (Parks and Rec): DIYers come together to make gorgeous, imaginative homemade projects, helping and encouraging each other along the way with their creations, as well as being encouraged and cheered on by their genuinely kind and enthusiastic hosts.

Hollywood Game Night – hosted by Jane Lynch: a fun, silly 45 minutes with celebrities and their fans having ridiculous fun, snacks, and laughs, just like friends, at a raucous game night that would be the embarrassment of ever progeny (because you know how we adults can get).

The Voice – well-known vocal artists encouraging and coaching talented, brilliant new ones who, undoubtedly, leave the show better than they arrived; lots of cheering on, ego boosts, encouragement in growth, and emotional uplifts from both coaches and fellow team members.

Sarah and Duck – While this is not a “creative” show, per say, it is definitely one of my absolute favorite feel-good shows. Created by the BBC, little Sarah and her best friend Duck, accompanied by a caring Narrator, traipse through a beautiful animated world of diverse characters, problems to be solved, and simple, wonderful moments to be enjoyed. It is the ultimate quiet time show with soothing music and the sweetest scenarios.

This is just a handful of the shows that, over the past seven years, have made me incredibly happy and that can always bring a smile to my face. They have been blanket-forts of solace and comfort in the midst of the crazy of life, something that we all deeply and dearly need right now, as much as or even more than ever before.

So…what do you say, Netflix? Hook some happiness junkies up?

The Struggle With Moving Staircases


One of the many amazing things that Harry Potter discovers upon his first night at Hogwarts is that the staircases move! Yes, indeed, the staircases throughout Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry move seemingly of their own accord (a trait which appears to have been built into the very walls of that castle). This is stated to be quite disconcerting, not to mention disruptive to important plans, such as getting to class on time. How on earth is one supposed to climb a staircase that is moving?

That is where I am in this moment, Dear Readers: trying to climb a staircase that is constantly moving and thus changing my direction and destination. I do not doubt that your current state of life is much the same. Change is always weird for me but, right now, for this mom and teacher, the shift is downright unsteadying. It is unsettling when a dear one can ask me, “How is school planning going?” twice in the same hour and the answer can be different from one end of the hour to the other, because something somewhere has changed in that short space of time. Something that upsets the whole balance of everything I have hitherto planned or worked on. But this is the new reality of our world, isn’t it? A world of moving staircases, split-second changes, and necessary flexibility, adaptation, and improvisation. As a teacher, my experience with change is constant and never-ending; however, that does not in any way make it an easy thing. Nor, do I realize, is it easy for anyone else, and, I know, Dear Reader, that nothing is easy for you right now either.

You are navigating your own moving staircases of whether or not to send your child back to in-person classes or figuring out childcare or giving heartfelt reassurances if the decision has been taken out of your hands by circumstance. Believe me, I get you. I feel you, Dear Reader. All the staircases are moving on us, and we are being forced to hold on and figure out our way from our new starting point. But it will be okay.

No, it’s definitely not okay right now, I agree. We are not okay right now, absolutely. But it will be okay. We keep heroing on, you and me and everyone else out there. We hold on and hold fast as the staircase moves and then forge a way forward when it stops. The path may be halting, may be very stop-and-start for a while, but we will make it. We will get through it together. Again, while we are not in the same boat or even the same particular storm in some cases, we are still in the same ocean. We are still in this together, no matter how different our circumstances or our struggles. We can still reach out and find someone who hears us, feels us, and understands us and our struggles. We have each other. We are together, no matter how separate we may be.

I am not okay right now. I am unsteady; I am nervous; I am unsure as to what to do next, as the path changes almost daily. But I will keep moving forward. You may not be okay right now, Dear Reader, and that is totally valid. You are not alone in this. But it will be okay. We will be okay. Just as Harry had Ron and Hermione right there with him on the moving staircases of his life, so too will we keep moving forward, Dear Readers. Together.

Sinking In


This feels odd, doesn’t it? Being told to stay away from other people, to isolate ourselves? Being told to stay home? Many of us often wish we could but being told to do so is rather a different story, isn’t it? And yet it is for our own good. It is to protect us and others. It is meant for our good. And honestly? If we were not forced to—by need or dear-one mandate—some of us would never do ourselves that good and rest, including Yours Truly.

Jesus got it, though. Jesus got this separate but together thing. He got rest, in both senses of the phrase. He understood it and He made sure He got it. More than once in the New Testament, we are treated to watching Jesus step back and self-isolate, to “retreat from the crowds”, once for 40 whole days! (And here I am just on Day 3.) It was also for His good, the separation from everyone else for a little bit, the rest from the hustle. It was for His good, just as this is for our good. Jesus did it to restore His strength and to sink into His connection with God. So we, too, can use this time to restore our strength and health and to sink back into our connections—to faith, to family, to self. We can rest, just as Jesus did. Remember, He did it for 40 days once. Let’s be honest: in this particular case, He may be the only one who can speak to our condition.

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.

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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