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

 

 

Love Is a Superpower


Check out that title again. Go on. Don’t worry, I’ll wait right here for you.

See that? Did you know that? Think about it! Love is a superpower.

Love is versatile. Love is strong. Love is life-saving. Love is world-changing.

Love is a superpower.

See that girl standing against the wall over there, her head bowed? That head covered in luminescent teal and aqua hair, hair that perfectly matches her outfit? Imagine how proud she must have been of that radiant ensemble after meticulously planning and putting it together. Then no one complimented it. No one noticed the bravery and care it took to live her unique beauty and truth. Now imagine her face after you step over and tell her, “I love your mermaid hair!” Imagine the smile that might brighten that beautiful young face. That’s the power of love. That’s the supernal magic of expressed kindness and compassion.

Love is a quiet word. Love is a genuine compliment. Love is an acknowledgement of trying.

Love is a superpower.

When we extend even a little love outward, it ripples, reverberates, snowballs, and multiplies exponentially. It may not always come back to us but we can absolutely count on it surging forward like a wave swell, building and increasing in power as it courses onward until it finally hits and explodes, sending uncountable, shining, shimmering pieces of itself out into the air and the world.

Love is what compels children to pick up their plate, walk out of a restaurant, and hand it to a hungry soul huddled outside.

Love is what compels neighborhoods to rally around their sick, elderly, and downtrodden to lift them up to hope.

Love is why children who are left to grieve the death of a parent are gathered close and taken in by family friends. People who have always treated children like their own are taking them into their families as their own, ensuring that they know they are loved, protected, and wanted.

Is love always easy? No. I love always accepted, lauded, or thanked? No. Like courage, love does not derive its definition from simply doing it when it is easy. Courage is doing what’s right or what’s needed in the face of being scared. Love is doing good when we could do otherwise.

Love is we choose to step into an isolated corner or a lonely cafeteria table and speak to the soul that’s hidden there.

Love is when we choose to wait for someone rather than rushing ahead.

Love is when we choose kind words and a soft voice rather than the explosion our feelings tell us is warranted.

Love is when we choose to see the child needing help coping rather than the little tyrant throwing a fit.

Love is when we choose to accept as is. When we choose to sit with, hold close, listen intently, speak encouragingly, handle gently, defend boldly, and act mercifully. Watch what happens. Watch the changes, the improvements; watch the vibration, reverberation, and snowballing of that love as it is passed on to others. Love never remains stagnant, unchanged, or even in one place.

Love is supernatural. Love is supernal. Love is superb. Love is absolutely a superpower!

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To Print Love on Others


Two days ago, I had a thought. I was in need of joy and the best way I know to garner joy is to give it as best I can. Bundling that thought up in my fist, I went to the dollar store and bought a pretty storage box. That took quite a bit of deliberation as I am sucker for a pretty box. You have no idea how much self-control it took to not buy all the pretty storage containers and vessels to use somehow in my classroom. All that to say that I left the store with just what I needed for my plan.

The next day, I typed up and printed ten encouraging quotes/sayings/thoughts that had always been an uplift to me. Then I made photocopies and then cut them out, folded them, and placed them in the box. Give it a good shake and we were ready.

Today, after long period blocks of mandated early-semester testing, I handed these simple slips of paper, these drops of (hopefully) encouragement, to my students as they left my classroom. I am also urging them to add to the box if they think of or find encouraging quotes or things to say. Because everyone can use an encouraging word now and again, and building each other up is a habit that it is never too early (or too late) for anyone to learn.

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The Blue Bench


There is a bench somewhere, probably nearby. You might have totally missed it before, but it’s there. More of a swing, really, though it’s mostly fallen into disuse as such over the years. Its color, however, has remained bright and vivid, as if it desires to teach the sky how to be just so. It’s a rather impossibly bright shade, making the bench simultaneously something old and something new.

This is an uncommon bench. This bench invites company. As you sit on the bench, you will find that its openness and space are not diminished. Rather, the bench seems bigger, longer, wider, brighter. So you add a friend. That bright blue bench seems bigger still. The more people who join you on the bench, the bigger it seems. The bench sees everyone as important and makes room for them.

The bench holds a lot of things, things spoken, sung, shared, and written. Joyous dreams. Mind-blowing adventures. Broken hearts. Torn souls. Stronger scars. Triumphant stories. Tearful whispers. But one of the most important things that this brilliant blue bench holds is a hand to always take yours, someone who has got your back and will always be there. Because the bench never met someone who wasn’t important. And everyone needs someone.

The Blue Bench

Encouragement for Sunday Night


OK, LOVES! It’s Sunday night. Monday is on deck, another week ready and raring to go. Sunday nights can be dark nights sometimes and rather trepidatious. So: that is why I am here. If, tonight, you are feeling a bit unsteady, I want to remind you of a few things:

You are strong.
You are beautiful.
You are intelligent.
You are loved.
You are enough.
You can do this.

If you feel like you could use a bit more of a pick-me-up–words spoken just for and to you–I’m more than happy to try my best to do that. Feel free to comment below. I would love to encourage you, love on you, and, if you will let me or would like, to pray for you over whatever this week and your life hold for you.

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A Long Way From Home, Day 7: Expecto Patronum!


Today, I figured out what my patronus is. Or it finally told me, I’m not entirely sure which. BUT the point is that I know what it is and it fits! But, first, an explanation.

I and several of my friends and loved ones (and perhaps you, too) are sometimes plagued by nasty little thoughts and mindsets that lie to us and cause us to doubt ourselves, our voices, feelings, and our worth. We call them ‘brain weasels’ and we hates them. The cruel little things tell us that what we have to say is crap, that no one cares, no one will listen, it isn’t worth saying or writing, we are not worth it, we should be ashamed about taking up space and air, we have no right to feel what we are feeling, we don’t try enough, it’s our fault, and on and on and on. They silence our souls, break our hearts, and drown our thoughts. I have been fortunate enough to have dear ones who, when the brain weasels attack, will fight them with every ounce of everything they have, determined to beat them off with a red-hot poker and remind me that I am loved, I have worth, and I am not forgotten.

And so I endeavor to do the same for others to the best of my ability. Today, a friend of mine posted on Facebook that she had wanted to post her thoughts today but that the brain weasels were on the prowl, telling her that what she had to say was no good or that no one would care. I found myself commenting on her post and telling her, “You are safe here. I have a lovely weasel-hunting…” And then I paused before finishing the sentence. What animals hunt weasels, I wondered? So, what else? I looked it up and the animal on the weasel predator list that immediately stood out at me was a fox. Something inside me bloomed and smiled. Perfect!  It did. It felt perfect. So I finished my comment: “…I have a lovely weasel-hunting fox patronus.”

It fit. It absolutely fit. But “why?” was my next wondering. I knew that foxes are typically associated with being cunning and tricksters, but what else could they represent? (And friends who are knowledgeable and skilled with animal spirituality and totems, please feel free to chime in here, by all means!) One source lists the fox as representing patience, wisdom, intelligence, and adaptability, as characters who can straddle either or both sides of the spectrum (https://www.quotev.com/story/3671161/Patronuses-and-Meanings/1). Another source notes that the fox can represent observational skills, cunning, courage, invisibility, ability to observe unseen,
persistence, gentleness, swiftness, and a reliable friend (http://www.shamanicjourney.com/fox-power-animal-symbol-of-camouflage-quick-wit-cunning-agility-magic).

The fox has sat happily in my mind since the moment of its realization, and I cannot help but smile as I think about a silver-white-blue fox frolicking around, a manifestation of my imagination, heart, and soul for those I love. I have been blessed with a good assortment of reliable friends and family and more than a few very happy thoughts and memories.

When you, my friends, family, and dear ones, are beset by these brain weasels, I want you to know that you are safe from their lies with me. I am willing to hear you, listen to you, see you, and remind you of just how wonderful you are. Your thoughts are not stupid to me, nor are your feelings. You are valid and relevant as you are and you are still who you are, whether it is a great day or a bad day. I love you as you are. If you need a defender, I will gladly wrap you up in my arms (figuratively or literally, whichever is needed and allowing for distance) and point my wand at that nasty brain weasel of a Dementor.

This is my friend, they are mine to support and defend. My advice? Don’t mess with those I love because, believe me…

You won’t expecto this patronum!

 

(Featured photo credit: http://harrypotter.wikia.com/wiki/Seamus_Finnigan)

Lessons from Rainbow Tails


Have you ever had a balloon? A shiny prize that floats in the air and bounces on the end of its string, all weightless and buoyant and free?

That was my daughter’s joy yesterday: a bright orange balloon that she received from a server at Pizza Hut for eating most of her spaghetti lunch. It bounced and floated and played with her all the rest of the day and evening. This morning, however, my girl was in utter despair to find it wilted and lackadaisical on the floor of the kitchen. Then she discovered that, if she ran, the balloon would “fly” again, and so she spent the next fifteen minutes just running in a giant oval around the living room, through the kitchen, and back. Not too long after, she ventured outside onto her grandparents’ carport and made another amazing discovery: if she stood there and held on to her balloon, the wind would lift it up and fly it all around her, much to her delight.

Unfortunately, amazement led to heartbreak as she loosened the bobbing balloon from her wrist, a gust of wind ripped it from her small hand, and blew it down the street before lifting it up into a tree where none could reach. Her balloon, her treasure, her resurrected glory, was gone! My girl came inside in tears, insisting that I put on her shoes so that she could go in search of and rescue her stolen balloon. When I explained that no one could reach it and it was gone, she collapsed into hysterical tears, hiding herself under her img_0754favorite blanket and turning into a sobbing bundle on the floor while I patted her back.

Then, of course, Grandma and Grandpa came to the rescue. Grandpa blew up a brand-new blue balloon, bigger than the one she had lost, and Grandma pulled out her ribbon stash from her craft things to allow my girl her choice of ribbons. She picked four (pink, blue, orange, and yellow) so she “could have a rainbow” attached to her balloon, the most beautiful tail I have ever seen gifted to a balloon.

Have you ever had days like that orange balloon? Those days where you are flying high one day, life is good, and joy abounds. Then, the next day, the world seems to come crashing down around your ears and things sit on you and sap your light and energy and joy. The floor you’ve collapsed onto is cold and hard and sad. Those moments, big or small, can be so very hard, so deeply downcasting, and so incredibly lonely. I’ve been there, I know those feelings, those dark nights.

And then something happens. A word, a touch, a helping hand, time given, your words listened to, your heart heard, your pain seen. It’s like that fresh morning breeze that lifted that poor orange balloon up into the air and set it to flying again. That encouragement can save a heart, kinds words folding into our souls, and helping to peel away the layers we have hidden behind but that have failed to protect us. Those words and actions of love set themselves upon the cracks in us, soothing their pain, and, maybe, even starting their healing process. We are helped up to our feet, given strength or someone else’s to borrow and lean on for that difficult moment. Eventually, we may look back some day and find that something is different. It might be our circumstances, our path in life, or maybe it is us as a person. But something is lighter, brighter, different; and maybe, just maybe, you might find yourself with a brand-new rainbow tail trailing in your wake. Then you know what the fun part is? Rainbows are light, light spreads, and, soon, the world will turn round and you will have the chance to gift someone else with a rainbow tail, too.

A Long Way From Home – Day 2: Come Away


After I woke this morning at seven-something to the rattling of a door handle and the insistent knocking by my toddler daughter, I felt this almost immediate compulsion to get up, get dressed, and go for a walk. It was like a record on repeat in my head: Get up, get dressed, go for a walk. I tried to reason it away. My devotional/Bible Study was waiting for me on the bedside table; I couldn’t go for a walk when I needed to spend time with God before the madness of the day began. (Yes, even my vacations have mad days, especially when I come back to visit my family.) And then I remembered my prayer from last night. I had specifically asked God to draw me away this week, to draw me away for moments with Him.

And it pinged in my heart that He was answering.

Come away.

So I got dressed, pulled on my sneakers, left my phone on the bed, told my parents and Bizzy I was going for a walk, and set off down the drive, out the gate, and down the road.

This is a road that I walked or rode every day for thirteen years of my life. The street my parents live on, that I lived on, has gotten very crowded. Houses now press close together on what used to be overgrown lots of land and a large playing field. The open space that I used to feel in my world has contracted, become constricted. Though maybe that’s just because I have grown? My feet were a little unsteady on the uneven ground of the roadside (there are no sidewalks around here) but it still felt familiar and I found my sea legs soon enough. I reminded myself of memories as I walked.

A cousin lived there.

Another cousin lives that way.

A friend lived there for a while.

The school is that way.

I passed the spot where I would get mobbed by nesting nightingales in the spring, even though the tree that was there is long gone now.

I walked myself out of my neighborhood and down the road, busy with cars and school buses headed to and fro, to the beach where the boats launch. I walked right up to the water, standing on the rocky shore to feel its cool morning air and hear its lap against the rocks, the dock, and the boat launch. I haven’t been that close to the ocean in at least two years. Eventually, I walked back up and sat on the wall the separated the boat launch from the sand and tidal pools. The bright-green mid-shallows and dark-blue deeps where the sandbar drops off just beyond were full of boats making ready to leave, a huge difference from my childhood and teenage years. Back then, this part of the beach was usually quiet, the water empty of anything but the occasional small fishing boat and sea-bathers. There was one boat at the dock taking on passengers for a morning snorkel tour. Scuba boats were loading on their air tanks. Street vendors were setting up their tents and wares in the parking lot for the day’s work, talking back and forth as they did. A man selling conch shells on the corner was cutting open water-full green coconuts, his machete beating out a steady rhythm until the tough nut’s top gave way.

Perhaps you think I have some grand spiritual revelation that I am working up to here, having been called away by God and all, but I don’t. All I have to show for my time there is an exercised body and slightly easier breathing. I just sat there, taking everything in, remembering what this corner of the world and what used to be my life is like. The morning was cool, the sun bright but not hot, and the breeze off the water was comforting. What I got out of this was a bit of calm, a bit of time to myself, some soft silent words exchanged with God, and the gentle reminder of peace in nature.  Perhaps what God was calling me away to this morning was rest. Rest that I and my empty cup and dwindling spoon drawer have so desperately needed recently. Rest and refreshment and refilling and revitalizing.

Perhaps what God was calling me away to this morning was rest. Rest that I and my empty cup and dwindling spoon drawer have so desperately needed recently. Rest and refreshment and refilling, even if just bit by bit.

Keep calling me away, God. I’m listening.

(Art) Today’s Heart-Speaker: Lisa Congdon


A few days ago, I was gifted with a beautiful book by a dear friend: Whatever You Are, Be a Good One: 100 Inspirational Quotations, hand-lettered by Lisa Congdon. This book is simply gorgeous and full of so much wisdom and encouragement and spiritual beauty. I have taken to flipping through it daily since I received it, looking for something that might be that day’s heart-speaker and lay itself alongside the rest of the good that I have been gifted with. This, the second quote in the book, is one of today’s heart speakers:

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Sometimes, all I am called to do is to be still and love. Especially when my happy is bumped, my attitude is in funk, or my uglies want to come out, those are the most important times for me to be still, to be thankful, and to love. Who knows what miracles God will work in my heart when I do this? I could be kinder. I could be gentler. I could be more joyful. I could be better. Better than my bad attitude, better than my uglies. Better at loving.

Be still and know. Be still and be thankful. Be still and love.

For the Love of Sweet (Baked) Community


At any point in time, there is usually one television show that I will go to for my background noise. Whether I am writing, working, cleaning, or just needing to relax, it’s a show that can just be a calming white noise in the back of my conscious attention. Currently, that show is the series of “The Great British Baking Show (Bake Off)” that is hosted by Netflix, which I think is series 5 or sommat (yeah, my partial Britishness is showing through). I LOVE this show! I kid you not, I have watched this one season of the show at least ten times through. I watched it when it aired on PBS originally and was delighted when it showed up on Netflix. It has become the one show that I will happily and consistently watch at any point in time. And I’ll probably make you watch it, too.

This past Christmas, I gave the American version of the show, “The Great Holiday Baking Show”, a fair shake but didn’t enjoy it nearly as much. Not by a long shot. Now, I could mark that to the fact that…well…British accents (English, Scottish, Welsh, Irish) just make anything better. But that would be a purely superficial reason. No. The reason that I love TGBBS is, I have discovered, because of the community and the way it is portrayed and shown. These people aren’t just contestants; these people are one big family, even though their number gets smaller week by week. They are fun, they are delightful, they are funny, they are supportive, encouraging, and helpful towards each other. They meet their challenges head-on and with high hopes (if there is groaning, grimacing, or grumbling, it is forgivingly on the cutting room floor), even if they have never heard of a princesstorte in their life (“Never seen it, never eaten it”) or if, at the end of an episode, they vow that they “will never wrap another pear in pastry again”. No matter what, they support each other. Each person who wins Star Baker is met with resounding applause and “well done’s”; those who have had a rough day are given support by their teammates (yeah, they call themselves a team, not competitors); and those who go home are met with hugs, “we’ll miss you’s”, compliments of their skill, and assurances that they will continue to make absolutely splendid creations in their future. Seventeen-year-old Martha, the youngest ever contestant on the show as of that particular season, was assured by Sue Perkins, upon her leaving the show, “you will rule the world, my darling”. And what seventeen-year-old doesn’t need to hear such confident encouragement and faith in them? And then, at the finale episode, everyone came back to cheer on the finalists and celebrate their success with them.

I love this! This…THIS is my heart for community! My heart for people, the vision of community that I am trying to foster and build in my life. A community of people–real, living, trying-their-best, imperfect people: family, friends, fellow hobbyists, peers. I want a world where we each do our best with the gifts that we have been given, where we encourage, cheer on, and clap for others even when they do better than we do, where we help each other through our stressful, difficult moments with no thought to ulterior motive, listen and/or offer comfort in mournful moments, and rejoice riotously with each other in our successes (and, yes, believe me, you will have them).

As Jen Hatmaker might say: for the love of sweet (baked) community, this is what I want! This is what life and love and relationship are about for me.