Gentleness in the Chaos


The end of the fall semester is fast-approaching (much faster than expected in some ways). Everyone knows what this is like. Everyone knows what the stress and weariness and just general chaos are like. Vacation is drawing nearer but so, too, is the academic gauntlet that must be run in order to reach it. Tests must be studied for (or, in some cases, crammed for the night before), projects must be finished, presentations given, and papers written. The end of an academic semester is hardly the gentlest of times for either teacher or student, speaking as one of said teachers.

As we head into this hectic time, gentleness is paramount and oh so necessary. Gentleness with ourselves as well as with others. You are allowed to be gentle with yourself. (yes, I’m saying this to myself as much as to you, dear one). You are allowed to let yourself get sleep. You are allowed to feed and water yourself liberally. Whether it is end-of-semester or Christmas prep, you are absolutely allowed to keep yourself from running yourself into the ground over the next few weeks.

As the days wend closer to those dreaded final exams, I can see the tension mounting in my students–in the way they hold themselves, in their behavior, in their speech–and I have to be on my guard, reminding myself of the necessity of gentleness. I have a responsibility to my students: to make sure that they are knowledgeable and prepared for the end of the semester and the final exam that awaits them. I want them to be confident in their knowledge, confident enough to hopefully offset any nervousness. However, I know that such a thing is unlikely to happen; nervousness is always part of the equation, even for the most seasoned student. But that unlikelihood will not stop me. Chaotic times need gentleness and kindness even more. In the midst of all the studying and the prep, I will do my best to encourage my students, to remind them that they can do this, that they can succeed.

You can do this, people. Time to HERO UP!

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The Advent of Gentleness


As we enter the Advent season today, I have been pondering just how gentleness ties into Advent. The words normally associated with this reflective yet celebratory season are: hope, peace, love, and joy. Advent is known as a season of hope and expectation, where the long-awaited comes to pass. But where does gentleness begin? I’m not necessarily thinking of the rush of the season, though it does come to mind. All the shopping, prepping, wrapping, and decorating. I myself am full of these plans, and I know their possibility to make this season an ungentle one. But that is a whole other blog post.

Where does gentleness begin? Is it in the things we buy, package, and donate? The wishes we try to fulfill? Is it in the hours we give to rehearsals and practices? Is it in the presents tucked away with all the hopes for them bringing joy when opened? Is it in the moments when we let the To Do list fall by the wayside, when we just sit in the glow of the lights with the warmth of our dear ones in our arms? Is it in our voice lifted still with cries for mercy and justice? What about the moments spent alone in contemplation over the year as it makes ready to be consigned to oblivion?

Yes.

I believe that this is where gentleness starts. In any of it. In all of it. In the small moments, the little things, in the corners of our hearts that we open up, in the generosity that we show, and in the quiet moments that we are mindful of and cherish. When we open ourselves up to let these beautiful things out, we let beauty and gentleness in as well. It refills us, reinforces us, and reminds us that we are dealing with very human hearts in a very humanly-flawed world.

Yesterday, I watched my daughter run up to a charity worker in front of one of the entrances to our local mall. You know, one of the people ringing the bell. Now, I don’t agree with this particular charity’s stance on several things that are important to me, but I know that these people are trying their best and sacrificing comfort and warmth to do what they hope is good. Therefore, I will never begrudge them. The lady ringing the bell smiled and bent near my daughter, offering the bell to her to ring with one hand and then holding out the other to shake her free hand lovingly. I saw gentleness in that moment, in their bright “Merry Christmases”, and in their holding the doors for people coming out and going into the mall. It’s moments like these.

The world, as we look at it today, is hard and harsh and frightening; it batters and beats and berates and bruises those who most need its mercy. We take that in day after day after day and fight not to let it make us hard in turn. We fight back with love and mercy, grace and gentleness. As Winn Collier points out, gentleness is subversive; gentleness is preposterous.

God comes to us with a preposterous gentleness that will always be a scandal in this rough-and-tumble world. And God invites us to join the scandalous subterfuge. Advent, these watchful days, asks us to see [sic] the world anew, to watch the alternative possibilities. Advent invites us to become gentle people again (Collier).

As we enter the Advent season today, let us join that “scandalous subterfuge”. Let’s hold fast to gentleness, refuse to let it be torn or pushed from our hands or hearts, speak it, and spread it. Let’s check ourselves, give ourselves a 5-second timeout, before we speak or react ungently to our loved ones. Let’s be willing to let some things go in order to hold on to what is most important. Let’s be willing to bend down, offer our bell and our hand, and give a smile to someone.

Whether you celebrate (or even like) Christmas or not, let’s embrace that preposterous gentleness. That gentleness that will undercut the dark and hard and the harsh and remind us to send our spirits out into the world among our fellow men. We only get one shot at this life, dear ones. Let’s make it a good one, starting with today.

“The Gentleness of Advent” by Winn Collier – http://winncollier.com/gentle_advent/

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When Being Gentle is Hard


I have been watching. I have been listening. I have been paying attention. And I have learned something about developing (or naturally having) a sensitive, gentle heart: even the gentlest of hearts gets tired. It opens one up to feeling a great deal, of intuiting emotion behind words and events and reacting deeply, even if you never show it outwardly. And that, dear friend, can be utterly exhausting. And that exhaustion can affect our ability to be gentle.

Several months ago (they can all start to run together eventually, can’t they?), my darling preschooler daughter kicked the bottom out of my proverbial spoon drawer. The hubby commented that I can “always find more spoons” but without the drawer to hold them, all I end up with are spoons all over the floor. The truth is that I was tired, as in “life is exhausting me and I need a break” tired. Green Eggs and Ham was tantamount to torture that night, as my girl insisted on “reading” it a second time herself. Even though I normally love to listen to her “read”, I was just tired and done, and tiredness is far from a recipe for gentleness for me. I was beset by sinus congestion and pressure/pain that had enveloped my entire head. And yet there were still things to do. This was not a case where “it will wait” was workable. Company was coming, Easter was coming, date-day was coming, a new bed was coming…there were things that had to be done! I was feeling, and often acting, far from gentle in those moments.

Like the writer in Psalms, I can feel myself crying out, “My soul is weary! (Psalm 119:28)” I wonder how (or if) I can ever get back to the replenishing that is promised in Jeremiah (31:25 MEV). I feel like I am swimming against the tide and it’s oh so wearying.

Tiredness makes gentleness hard, even (and maybe especially) with myself. If I am not careful, I can see my weariness as weakness, my difficulty in asking for help an insurmountable fault. I can see my being slow to grade a large set of assignments (only doing it bit by bit instead of in one all-nighter) as being lazy. I can see my humanity, my need for rest and recovery, as a fault. It’s a lie I can easily fall into if I am not careful. But that’s exactly what it is: a lie. My weariness is not a fault. It is a consequence of my humanity, yes, but not a fault. It is in such times as these that gentleness is having to be a conscious and deliberate choice, even if I don’t believe it. At that point, the crux is in the doing.

Right now, my soul is weary but I am choosing to be gentle with myself. I choosing to let myself off the hook for NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month) this year. I’m still going to post as often and as regularly as I can but I am not going to beat myself up if I miss a day or if I have to choose grading over writing or sleeping over grading. I want to write what is true and meaningful and helpful but I cannot do that if I am pushing myself to the breaking point, if I lose sight of the why within the action.

Dear One, if your soul is weary and tired today, gentleness can be hard. You won’t feel like being gentle, even and perhaps especially with yourself. Gentleness may take a conscious, deliberate decision that you may not quite feel as of yet. Keep doing it. I’m right there with you; you aren’t alone. Let’s keep being gentle with others and with ourselves, even when it’s hard. Especially when it’s hard. Allow yourself to rest as best you can, recover as best you can, soothe and care for your deeply feeling heart.  Being gentle can be hard but it is worth it. Choose your gentleness, over and over again. You may not have the room to feel it at the moment but keep doing it. The “feeling” will return eventually.

Gentleness: Our Power Under Control


A long while ago, a friend sent me a quote and its poignancy has sunk deep into the fibers of my brain and heart.

“It’s like being in love: giving somebody the power to hurt you and trusting (or hoping) they won’t.”

Marina Abramović, Rest Energy

When I speak of (and write about) love in gentleness, I don’t mean a lamb-meek, soft-as-kittens, never-raises-my-voice kind of gentleness. What I mean by gentleness is the recognition of humanity in ourselves, our need for grace and mercy, and the pouring out of what we so deeply need onto others, recognizing that they, too, share this flawed, fallible thing called humanity. Gentleness is our choice to be for and respond to others what and how we ourselves have often most needed. If love is indeed giving someone the means and power to destroy you and trusting them not to do so, then gentleness is giving to others what we so desire for ourselves: grace, mercy, and understanding.

Gentleness has also been defined as power under control. We all bear extraordinary power in the lives of others–power to heal or to harm, power to give life or to take it away–and gentleness is choosing the merciful road, to heal and to give life with our words and actions. Gentleness is choosing to bring that power under control, to use it to do good to those into whose lives we act, speak, and interact. As Jennifer Dukes Lee wrote: “Our words always fold into the souls of other human beings. That is no small thing.” How many of us think of or remember that? Of how far or deeply our words can go into the souls of others? Our words, our reactions, and our responses can often make all the difference in and to someone’s heart. An ungentle word, a rash response, these things can sometimes do irrevocable and lasting damage, even though it takes less than a moment to happen and be over.

Gentleness cradles the trust that someone has placed in us, holds it softly and lovingly, recognizing their humanity calling out, and responds with the understanding of our own humanity and fallibility. Gentleness sees what we have needed and responds by being that person for someone else. Our power is put to the good of another’s soul.

Together, we can show gentleness, we can be the person that we have needed for someone else. We can bring the power we have, wrap it in love, and speak life to someone else who may be standing in the same hard place(s) where we have stood.

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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.**

Gently Returning to the World (Gen Con 2017 sum-up)


“Let me explain! No, is too much. Let me sum up!” — Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride

It’s Monday evening and I just finished one of my favorite weekends of the year: Gen Con! Unfortunately, I didn’t get to attend all four days of the convention because school and teaching have already begun, but the hubby and I made the most we could out of Saturday and Sunday.

Friday evening and night, I ate, indulged, enjoyed, and laughed. We had dinner with a friend at one of my favorite restaurants, shared delicious dishes, desserts, and wine. It was lovely. And then we Netflixed and chilled. No, seriously. Pjs, snacks, a laptop plugged into the hotel room’s television, and “Criminal Minds”. The next morning came with a long, hot, uninterrupted shower. (Sidenote: Why is hotel water so gorgeously silky?)

Saturday was a gloriously active day. I cosplayed. I belly danced. I walked. I reunited. I laughed. I hugged. I honestly had a really good day. I got to meet a favorite author, Mercedes Lackey, and she made my story-loving heart very full. A little child recognized my cosplay as his favorite superhero (“Mommy! Mommy! She’s Iron Man!”). I got to enjoy being raucously joyous at the dance with all the other geeks and new friends. I got to be bold, fierce, daring, loving, and unabashedly me.

By Sunday, my body ached but I was determined to show up in all my geeky glory. I got up early and ate a little breakfast at the hotel while I contemplated all that I had done so far over the weekend. Once we reached the convention, we found some very fun stuff (yay for TeeTurtle grab bags and The Baby Bestiary) and saw a few more people. By the end of the day, my feet, back, and ribs ached horribly and I was glad to sit down at Steak and Shake with Ben for a late lunch.

Next year, there are some things I will do differently. There are some more intricate cosplays that I want to do (Hogwarts, Trill science officer) and I will take more time in the preparation of them. I will also get myself some super comfy shoes for every occasion. There were some people with whom I had dearly and deeply hoped to spend time but it just didn’t work out. Not their fault. Next year, I will plan better to spend time with dear ones. On the whole, however, it was a good weekend. A really good weekend. Perhaps that is what makes the next part so difficult.

I don’t know if it is solely the weariness or not but the let-down feels heavier this year, more brutal. I know part of it is energy expulsion and the weariness that comes from it. I have to admit that another part of it is likely disappointment over what I didn’t do and people that I didn’t see. Perhaps I built up hopes/expectations that didn’t pan out; it happens, no one is at fault. I’ll plan more carefully and earlier next year so I can be sure to see those dear ones. Nevertheless, the out-whoosh of joy and enjoying-energy and freedom is proving very hard. I love this time with my hubby and with my delightfully geeky friends. Why can’t the joy last longer?

I miss my people. It always boils down to this. I deeply miss my people. Today, I have left dear ones to rest rather than poking them about their weekend experiences and all else, because I know they are tired and in need to rest and recovery of their own. They need a gentle return, too. I love them. I can wait.

All that said, Gen Con is in the books and I’m always glad for the experience. 

Foxy Nerd out!

GenCon 2017

 

Holding Myself Gently: When I Kiss My Own Shoulder


One of the most comforting gestures I have ever received is a kiss and gentle cheek press or nuzzle to my shoulder. It is closeness, contact, a willingness to stay, to sit with me in the midst of hard places and times. It is also one of the gestures that I most often give my husband and dear ones when they are in need of support and comfort. I love giving and receiving this particular gesture, and, yes, I do understand the intimacy of it. However, that does not mitigate its comfort one iota. When a dear one draws close to gift me with it, there’s no fully explaining the deep succor it is. But, sometimes, there are no dear ones around. Sometimes, my husband cannot be near. Sometimes I am the only one I have near enough to stand with me. So, in those cases, I needs must comfort myself.

There are days when I kiss my own shoulder. Times when I press my lips to my own skin in the gentlest kiss I can muster and lean my cheek on the curve of my own shoulder for a moment. Times when I so desperately need reassurance in a moment when I am on my own. When the tears threaten and I am not sure that anyone else will understand them if they fall.

There are times when I feel that I need to comfort myself or I just need a quiet moment. It is in those moments that I press my lips to my skin and lean my warm cheek against my own shoulder, reminding myself that it is okay.

That I am okay.

That it will be okay.