Bracing from Buoyancy to Letdown


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

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

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

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

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

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What a T-shirt Reminded Me About Love


Today was the first day of my Spring Break, and I spent the day (and an empty house) running errands and sprucing up the place for Spring/Motherly visit/Easter weekend. As I knew that I had errands to run after dropping my daughter off at preschool, I simply pulled on jeans, flats, and a favorite t-shirt before shrugging on my coat (yes, it’s still ridiculously cold for spring). A clearance buy from UnlockHope.com, this shirt was a soft red with “Love is a Verb” lettered on the front in white stylized artistry. Yes, it is definitely a favorite: comfy and truthful.

A lesson I have taken to heart over the past ten years is the exact one this shirt expounds. Love is many things. It is not only a feeling, an emotion. Love is a choice. Love is an action. Love is doing for others, not just saying the three little words. As I moved throughout my day, I found myself contemplating the words on my shirt: “Love is a verb.” I started to look at my day’s activities in the light of this sentence. And I realized just how true it is.

I realized that I was loving my dear ones by taking care of getting the taxes done (almost always a depressing endeavor). We’ve had the same wonderful professional taking care of our taxes since the first year of our marriage because I fully and openly acknowledge that tax codes and laws are something I am complete and utter rubbish at. Utilizing someone else’s skills and expertise helps my family in the best way while also keeping us as safe from mistakes as possible.

I was loving as I washed dishes, cleaned the stove, and tidied the kitchen table, creating space ready for cooking and eating and ease of finding things.

I was loving as I filed away my daughter’s preschool worksheets and projects, saving evidence of her progress and growth for her grandmother to see, as well as the future.

I was loving as I filled the washing machine and folded the already-dried towels, ensuring that my dear ones have clean clothes to wear tomorrow and days after.

I was loving as I sorted through toys and tidied my girl’s table where she creates her art and plays with her Legos.

As I worked and cleaned, listening to my audiobook and pausing for quick text chats with friends (and even now as I sit tired and achy from the energy spent), I found myself sighing contently at the productivity and smiling at the connection my heart was making with my hands. Sometimes I forget that the everyday tasks I perform and the things that I do are love. Love personified. Love acted out. Because it’s true, dear ones.

Love is more than just a feeling.

Love is a choice.

Love is action, whether that action is holding space, tidying a sink full of dishes, hugging someone close and letting them cry, or listening closely without saying a word.

Love is indeed a verb.

The Cost of Self-Care


Why does self-care always come at a cost? Or, rather, why do I always require/attach a cost to it?

Real life case-in-point. this past week, I was diagnosed with strep throat for the first time in my almost thirty-five years and was ordered by my doctor to stay home from work on Friday. I did, and, over the course of the weekend, I did what I could to rest from Thursday evening until roughly 3pm on Saturday. I laid in bed when I could, slept as late as I could, took hot baths, took my meds, drank fluids, and made sure I fed myself. At around 3pm Saturday, however, I saw the overflowing sink, the cluttered stove and kitchen table, and decided that I needed to make up for the time I had taken off, to make up the day and a half that I had spent being a laze-about. I actually said the words “I need to make up for lost time” to myself. My kitchen needed cleaning; clothes needed washing; I had already bathed my child, but she still needed attention, few spoons though I had to offer in that particular area. I felt like I had to make up for taking care of my own sick self.

Now, let’s look at the facts again. I wasn’t being lazy. I had strep. I was legitimately ill. And, yet, I felt like I had to make up for the time taken to help my body begin to heal. So I washed the dishes, cleaned the kitchen, sanitized the house, and did three loads of laundry, not to mention helping my daughter tidy up her daylong mess in the living room and look for the TV remote that she had lost. I pushed my body that is still working to fight off an infection and heal (and will continue to push—I still have grading to do and midterm grades are this week, along with preparation for our school’s accreditation visit) because self-care has a cost, and that cost is time.

Time cannot be held onto. Time cannot be gained back. Time can only be spent. Time can only be lost. So we are told. And, honestly, self-care often takes time that I just do not have.

I have a family.

I have a job.

I have a home to take care of.

I have responsibilities.

Extra time—or what feels as though it would require extra time—is something I often do not have.

But why? Why do I insist on having to make up for taking time out of all-important life, time that something inside tells me “could have been better used” than lying in bed and trying to get extra rest? Truthfully, I don’t know. Rationally, my brain knows that self-care and taking time for healing is important. However, we human beings are often anything but rational, me included. For example, I am sitting here writing this in my living room when, with my child already asleep, I could go to bed early.

Not to mention that this week, I lost a grandparent. The diagnosis, progression, and succumbing were immensely quick and unexpected. I live very far away from that side of the family, so I am somewhat at a loss as to what to do or even how to grieve in this moment. And I feel like that I don’t even really have time to figure that out. Time and the world keep marching on and so I must with it. Processing time is something I need but I almost feel as though it is a luxury in this moment.

The cost of self-care is time, time that I don’t have–or, rather, don’t think I have–and that makes me feel…less. I feel weak for “giving in” and “letting things slide”. I feel like I am less able to order my life than others. I feel as though I am not fulfilling my responsibilities to my family and our home. So, in my mind, I must make up for that. I must fulfill my role. I must make up for lost (read: wasted) time. This is a headspace out of which I am still struggling to break at almost thirty-five years of age. My progress in this area is imperfect and often feels minuscule to nonexistent, but that is why I am writing about it today. Acknowledging and exploring the reality of the dichotomy is at least one step forward I can take.

Through all this mental/emotional struggle this week, I have been gifted with and blessed by dear ones who have done their best to remind me that I need to take care of myself. They have showered me with grace, gentleness, and kindness in their reminders and sharing of this truth (yes, again, my logic and common sense acknowledge that this is true), filling in the spots where I have failed to grant them to myself.  So, thank you, friends. Thank you for your patience. Thank you for your love. Thank you for your kindness, gentleness, and grace. I will try to follow your example and extend them to myself, too. I doubt I’ll be very good at it (at first, at least), but I will try. Everything that is said below has been said to me more than once over the past week. Thank you again, dear ones. I will try harder to remember this.

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Stepping into the New Year


Today was our teacher work day ahead of the start of the spring semester. Honestly, last night, day one hadn’t even begun yet and I was already ready to quit. Just thinking about it made me tired, exhausted. So, today, I gave myself some very pointed instructions: take care of what absolutely must be done for Monday and Tuesday to flow as smoothly as you can manage. The rest can wait until later in the week. And I stuck to those self-imposed limitations for the most part. I stuck to it rather well, actually.

I’m not good that: sticking to limitations. I end up having arguments with myself that go rather like this.

Only go this far.

But—there’s so much to be done! Just a little more.

No, you’re going to get overwhelmed and freak out.

I’ll be…

You’re freaking out, aren’t you?

Yeah.

I am not good at sticking to limitations. I am not good at just taking one step. I feel the need to take several more, just to make sure. Just to make absolutely sure that everything that needs to be done is done, every possible preparation is made, every security I can manage put into place to assure that things go as closely to how they need to go (read: how I want them to go) as possible.

This year, the odds are good that there may come quite a few situations that I will feel overwhelmed by and thus be tempted to take extra steps to try control said situations. My challenge and journey this year will be in taking just the next step. Not running ahead, not taking a few extra steps “just in case”, but in taking just the next step that I feel God has led me to take. And then wait.

When I was a child, I attended a private church-school and, every morning, we said the pledge to the Bible. I pledge allegiance to the Bible: God’s Holy Word. I will make it a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.

“A lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” If you know anything about lamps, then you know that their circle of light doesn’t go very far. It will light your feet for the next step but only the next step. One step at a time.

This year, I want to lean into taking just that next step. Just the next step that I feel led to take. Faith, patience, courage, trust…all of these things lead into this action. I want to be better at it, at them. That is my goal for this year, that is my lesson, my learning: to take just the next step. The very next step. That’s all.

 

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Opening the Door for the Year to Slip Out (NYE 2017)


Today is the end of 2017. As we close out this year, I know it has been a terribly hard one for many personally. Terribly, terrifically, desperately hard. We as a society have lost a goodly amount of progress and soul under a leader who is out of touch with life and decency. Many people have seen 2017 tear away their security, faith in leaders, their resources, and even their very families.  Still, they and others have risen up in the midst of it, voices raised in defiance and truth and a call for rights, help, and protections for all.

This reminds me that good is not gone from the world, and, for that, I am imminently thankful. There are good people. There are people who will live and fight for others, for their rights, for their survival. There are people who will hold up their fellow man and woman, hold them gently and close, and speak for those who have no voice. There are people who love and love fiercely, as God has called us to love, and nothing will stop them in their course of action. Good is not gone from this world and it will never go silently away.

In this year, there have been wonderful moments, beautiful moments, silent and glorious moments. There have been moments of incredulity, of misunderstanding and pain, of facing a hard truth and then walking in the light of it, however it may blister. There have been moments that felt so terrible that all I wanted to do was hide away from the world forever. But I didn’t.

I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. I didn’t then, and I won’t now.

As 2017 makes its way out, I won’t wish it farewell with great fanfare or warm its way with a Molotov cocktail (though it feels like it’s surely earned something of the like in more than a few places). Instead, I’ll simply open the door and let it slip out into the dark night of midnight, consigned to oblivion. Similar to Shakespeare’s own words: “Then, window, let day in and let life out (Romeo and Juliet, Act 3, Scene 5).” We will never see this year again, never see its moments again. All that lies ahead is new. The moments ahead that await us are precious and painful in their own right; they can stand on their own two feet and need no help from the past.

But, as I open the door for this year to leave, I let the new one in. Shiny and blue and looking around bewildered by the expectations that already settle on its shoulders, the things that are enacted and put into place upon its birth. I will do my best to brush those expectations off 2018’s shoulders like so much snow off a coat and just…let it be for a bit. For a few hours. For a moment. I will kiss my husband and child. I will pray peace and good and restoration over this year. I will call my still-awake dear ones and text my slumbering ones and wish them a Happy New Year. I will sip from my glass and blow out the candles.

I will welcome 2018. I will straighten my shoulders, look it in the eye, and meet it with all the love, courage, fierce gentleness, and soul I can muster. And I pray that for you, too. I pray for courage, grace, peace, restoration, and hope for you.

Happy New Year, dear one. May it be blessed.

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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A Long Way From Home, Day 1


Yesterday was a long day: early morning traveling, frantic connection in our first stop, keeping up with my girl and keeping her close in the airports, and getting everyone and everything where it needed to go. Then, once we were established and fed, I set about unpacking while the hubby went to sleep and my girl played with Grandma. I didn’t find my rest until late last night when I opted to go to sleep rather than watch some late-night Netflix.

Today is Sunday, the day to see and be seen by the most people at any one time. To be covered in the flowery perfumes of the church ladies I’ve known all my life, deposited by enthusiastic hugs and Oh-my-sweet-good-to-see-you’s. Church is the place for us to be seen and shown off and delighted in by my parents. The educated, successfully-married daughter, the devoted, intelligent son-in-law, and the bright, bouncy, pretty granddaughter. I hope we do in fact make them as proud as everyone says we do. Admittedly, coming home and going to church can feel very awkward for me. I feel like everyone’s looking at me and weighing me against my former self. I know that this is likely merely my (incorrect) perception but it’s a difficult thought at times because there’s no way of divest anyone of a wrongful notion in two hours.

The more I come back, the more I realize how much where I live has actually become home now, rather than this place where I spent the first seventeen years of my life. I will always be a visitor here now, or at least that is how I feel. The school I went to, while the structures are still there, feels massively changed. The pastors are once again those from my childhood, but the staff of the church and the school is composed of both familiar and strange names, though mostly strange, death, illness, and circumstance having taken or moved on many of the people who were flagstones of those formative years. The church building that I grew up in is simultaneously the same and entirely different. The building is brand new, only 10 or 11 years old, a completely different edifice from the one I knew.  So this church really isn’t home anymore. I’m even too afraid to even touch the (grande) piano that sits on the platform. It’s not the piano on which I learned my scales or triumphed in my senior recital. It has never known my touch and so the entire building often feels alien and fragile to me.

My bedroom in my parents’ house is no longer my room. My bed is not my bed, but–quick sidenote–it is a marvelous bed! Beautiful dark-wood four-poster frame, elevated just enough that I actually have to climb into bed. A queen mattress to our full at home, I can also safely sprawl out in it and yet not disturb the hubby with my limbs all akimbo. Glorious! I may never own a King-sized bed but this is definitely the next best thing. End sidenote.

I love my family, and I am very glad that I have the opportunity and privilege to see them as often as I do. At one point this afternoon, there were two of my mother’s sisters in the house and one of her brothers on the phone, which we were passing around (as he lives up Lousiana-way). My girl was in raptures over the hand-me-down toys and sundries that one of her great aunts had brought her and I informed my uncle that he had best not get rid of his partner or kid about it since the family agrees that we like her better than we do him.

So today was a touch pensive but enjoyable, things to think about and others to rejoice in. Except for the part where my daughter was up at five-thirty and is only now going to bed at nine with nary a nap between. It’s enough to make a mother follow suit.

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