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.

Becoming One of Those Secrets


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How often do we laud someone for what they do rather than who they are? Why do we call someone “great” because of their success, their accomplishments in business, their accolades, rather than the qualities that they exhibit throughout their lives? Why do we ooh and ahh and admonish people that they “just don’t know how beautiful they are”? Why do we not encourage them, “Do you know just how rare your level of empathy and kindness is? Keep that stuff up!”   When I was growing up, I heard what people said, even when I pretended not to. I was lauded for being a good Christian girl who listened to her parents, attended and participated at church, excelled in my school work, etc. Often, though, I questioned whether or not people would actually like me if they really knew me. Was who I was as important or as good as what I did? What if I no longer did all of those things, for one reason or another? Would I no longer be loved, no longer be considered a worthy of a good reputation?

How did you get so deeply conditioned as to not recognize our own God-given worth, the good of our actions, that we doubt the sincerity of others when they do? Why do we answer “I’m glad you think so” (or “I’m glad you think so”) when we are called wonderful, kind, compassionate, etc.? Yet we are trained to say a demure”thank you” when our looks, the attractiveness score we were born with and have grown into, is complimented? We don’t want to appear rude or self-centered, after all, do we?

How can we change this? How can we open up and share the amazingness of these people (and we are included in those people) who really are so epically marvelous, gentle, generous, courageous in love, selfless in action, and tireless in caring? What can we do to let these awe-inspiring secrets know that they are just that: awe-inspiring? How can we laud who they are?

I believe that one of the ways we can manage this is with specific thank-yous. Not just “thank you for being awesome”, but “thank you for sharing that encouragement with me; it was just what I needed in that moment”. Thank them for reaching out, for holding your soul and heart gently when you were having a rough spell. Thank them for the meal they sent over when you grandmother died. Thank them for the post that turned your tears into laughter. Thank them for the thought behind their actions. Thank them for their generosity in giving that surprise gift. Thank them for their courage when you know that it took a goodly amount of it for them to stand up and disagree with those around them.

As we progress through our generation and rear the next, I think that we might be able to agree that we want ourselves and our children to be known for our character, not merely our accomplishments. We want the actions we take that stem from character integrity and a desire to better the lives and the world around us to be a guiding force. We are more than our successes or failures, our triumphs or losses. We are who we are and, if we decide it, who we are can be beautiful. No, not every secret needs to be told, needs to be outed. But can we learn–and then teach–what it is to be one of those gentle-holding, best-kept secrets? To be the best who we can be, as well as acknowledging those who are doing the same. Because the world could definitely use more secrets of that type. I’m going to keep working at it; you are not alone in this endeavor, dear one.

School Year’s End: Being Gentle with Goodbyes


The school year is almost over. There are three full days of school left after this one, our finals end tomorrow, and grades are due before I leave the building. I am ready for this school year to be done. I am ready to walk out those doors and not have to come back for at least a few weeks (I do have curriculum to write this summer, after all). I am ready to have my time be mostly my own again for a little while (I say mostly because my pre-K girl will be in daycare three days a week during the summer).

I am ready.

But, in the midst of all this readiness, I found a soft thought nudging my mind:

Say goodbye gently.

These junior high students have comprised the majority of my life, concern, and time for the past nine months, and now it is time to say goodbye. Next year, they will be freshmen. I will not see them every day, will not hear their laughs ripple through the halls, hear their franticly-rapid conversations in between periods, call at them to get to class, instruct them on the finer points of grammar, writing, or literary interpretation, or remind them of what it means to “have courage and be kind”.

Underpinning these thoughts, all that’s going through my head is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “One Last Time” from Hamilton: An American Musical, where George Washington admonishes Alexander Hamilton, despite protest, to help him say goodbye properly to the fledgling American people and to teach the latter how to move on to new leadership. I am feeling the urge and leading to say goodbye to my students gently, to teach them how to say goodbye. 

To this end, I have had them writing letters to their favorite elementary and middle school teachers, to give commendation, encouragement, and thanks to those who have worked so hard to prepare them for the world that they will enter in the fall. My pile has been rather small this year compared to years passed but, honestly, though my pride might twinge a little, I’m mostly okay with it. Other teachers need to know how much they are appreciated by their students; it’s vital for a teacher’s soul, I feel.

To this end, I will do my utmost not to shoo them out of my room when all is said and done but to take my time and say goodbye to as many of them personally as I can, shake hands and even give hugs if they like. I will endeavor to say goodbye gently as my students move from one world to another, from the familiar to the different and, probably, somewhat scary. I want to send them off with as much courage and kindness as I can.

HAMILTON:
Mr. President, they will say you’re weak

WASHINGTON:
No, they will see we’re strong

HAMILTON:
Your position is so unique

WASHINGTON:
So I’ll use it to move them along

HAMILTON:
Why do you have to say goodbye?

WASHINGTON:
If I say goodbye, the nation learns to move on.
It outlives me when I’m gone.

Don’t forget, my dear scholars:

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Art and lettering by @joshuaphillips_ (Instagram)

Featured image by: @katchulaa (Instagram)

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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Treating Valentine’s Day Gently


Yesterday was that most celebrated and simultaneously dreaded and reviled of days: Valentine’s Day. I know some people who love it, others who disagree with it, boycott it, or downright hate it, all for different and likely very valid reasons. I personally don’t mind it. It gives me an excuse to do what I enjoy doing anyway: letting people know that they are cared for, loved, and appreciated.

In college, I bought carnations from one of the sororities and had them sent around campus to my friends. I snuck around dorms, leaving parcels of fresh-baked cookies or sliding cards under doors.

Nowadays, I send letters and cards through the mail, few to none of them necessarily red or pink or covered in hearts. I sometimes send flowers, goodie/snack baskets, books, or coveted t-shirts.

This year, I bought my husband a card about cuddling up and binge-watching our favorite show, along with a copy of the latest season of “The Big Bang Theory” so we could do just that. He bought me a DVD of a show that I have been looking forward to, too. I bought my daughter some cute outfits for her first Valentine’s Day party at preschool and a card with a spring-loaded heart inside, which she played with and covered in stickers all evening.

Yes, the day has become commercialized. Yes, the keeping of it has become social expectation. Yes, some people try to front-load affection, love, kindness, etc., and then let it lapse the rest of the year.

For some, this day is a day of bitter memory, of hurts tied not to the day itself but to the events of one or several Valentine’s Days. Unfortunately, over time, those bitter cords have attached themselves to the day itself. The circumstances have perhaps faded into oblivion, leaving only the day to stand as a bastion of misery and thus worthy of boycotting.

Again, people’s reasons are valid and they are free to do as they will.

For me, I choose to approach Valentine’s with the thought of, “Whose heart can I gentle today?”

Whose heart can I make smile today?

Who can I remind that they are loved today?

Who needs a reminder of the good that they have done that I’m grateful for?

Who could just use a kind word on what might be a lonely day?

For me, Valentine’s Day isn’t an obligation, it isn’t a burden. It’s an opportunity–for love, for encouragement, for gentleness. But that’s just the way I see it.

I hope yours was good to you.

When Emotion is Anathema to Gentleness


Twice so far this week (oh, who are we kidding? Twice in the same day…) I have wanted to get into a fight, or at the very least, a shouting match with people who have made friends of mine feel marked lousy. It didn’t matter to me whether it was a mistake or not, I just knew that they had hurt someone I care about and I was seeing red. It doesn’t help that I have been in a depleted, weary place for the past week and am finding my negative emotions easily amplified right now, but that didn’t matter either. All I knew is that these people needed to know just how much they suck. I even  gave in to internet courage and posted something to that effect on one hurt friend’s FB post about the incident.

And then I immediately felt guilty. I immediately felt like a fraud, a liar.

Here I am, claiming to espouse love and grace and gentleness, and yet I can act and say things so absolutely contrary to any of those things. I wanted my friend to know that she was supported and loved but I tore someone else down to do it, someone I didn’t even know.

I went back and edited my comment (to say that I wanted to yell at the HR person in question rather than hit them), but, obviously, I still feel badly about it. Or else I wouldn’t be sitting here, feeling compelled to write this at 6am the following morning.

Emotion can sometimes be an anathema to gentleness. Mine are currently running high, subject to amplification because of weariness and need to recharge/refresh, and I allowed them to rob me of an opportunity to show gentleness to a stranger. I lost a chance to model the gentleness that I am very much wanting and trying to internalize so that it becomes habit, instinct. That chance is gone now. I can change the post, I can apologize and try to do better, but I cannot erase that first response, that first action, those first words. They are written on time and memory. I won’t forget them, and I am honestly struggling a bit not to be consumed by them right now. I acknowledge my tendency to ruminate on things and cause myself a fair amount of emotional pain because of past mistakes. That is not what I want to do to here.

I acknowledge my humanity, my fallibility, and that I’m going to do the wrong thing at times. But I am not through. My growth is not over. I have felt that nudge of guilt, and I have listened to it. I see where I was wrong and I apologize for my behavior. I will try to be better today. I will strive for gentleness today, even with those I don’t know and may never meet. The words below were published by Jennifer Dukes Lee on her Facebook page yesterday and I am ever so thankful for them and their God-breathed truth.

“I want to be reminded that there is no failure. Failure is just another word for “try again tomorrow,” or “move on; there’s something better for you.” Failure is not the opposite of success. Failure is simply this: NOT TRYING.

Your bravery has a voice. As the week begins, listen to it. Bravery is the voice within that says, “I did not fail. I will try again tomorrow.” — Jennifer Dukes Lee

Hidden Behind the Ripple


“I’m fine.” We are all familiar with the lie of “I’m fine”. There is a myriad of reasons for not admitting when we aren’t okay.

We don’t want to be a bother.

We know that others “have it much worse”.

We don’t have the emotional spoons or energy to explain everything.

We are embarrassed or ashamed by whatever is going on in our head or heart.

So we say “I’m fine”. We join in the conversation, join in the laughter. But laughter can hide so much. It can hide pain, hurt, betrayal, despair, loneliness, heartache, and the list goes on and on. It’s amazing sometimes just how much can be hidden behind the ripple of what should represent joy and pleasure.

We have all been or known someone who hides behind the smiling mask, lost in such a dark haze that laughter becomes anathema to its original point and becomes just another reminder of pain and little else. Sometimes it easy to tell when laughter is naught but a smokescreen and a hiding place. Other times, though, it is not so easy to see. But gentleness is still possible, I believe, even when we don’t know. Knowing this, can we not see our way to holding souls gently? To not insist that they “smile and be happy” if they aren’t feeling it. To sit with them in quiet and commiserate. In the Bible, Proverbs 14:13a says, “Even in laughter the heart may ache…”  How true is this! Isn’t this all the greater a reason to hold and treat each other gently?

{{Author’s note: Ironically, I finished and posted this on a day that I was most definitely not fine. Thank you to all those who held me gently and held space for me in my not-okayness.}}