The Unfinished Work of Freedom


I was today years old when I realized something. As we stood in the meeting house this morning and sang “America the Beautiful”, I found myself looking at the lyrics, the music dying away on my lips as I read and thought. The latter section of each verse is, in its essence, a prayer.

v1 – O beautiful for spacious skies, 
for amber waves of grain; 
for purple mountain majesties 
above the fruited plain! 
America! America! God shed his grace on thee, 
and crown thy good with brotherhood 
from sea to shining sea. 

v2 – O beautiful for heroes proved 
in liberating strife, 
who more than self their country loved, 
and mercy more than life! 
America! America! May God thy gold refine, 
till all success be nobleness, 
and every gain divine. 

v3 – O beautiful for patriot dream 
that sees beyond the years 
thine alabaster cities gleam,
undimmed by human tears! 
America! America! God mend thine every flaw, 
confirm thy soul in self-control, 
thy liberty in law.

For all their extolling America’s virtues, these verses and the prayers embedded into them acknowledge that there is still so far to go, so much to do in the work towards that American Dream of freedom. And I find myself appreciating this honesty, whether the authoress, Katharine Lee Bates, intended it or not.

The absolute truth of our country is that freedom is still an unrealized dream. No, slavery doesn’t exist anymore in our country (not as we historically think of it) but the cultural and societal beliefs and mindsets that engendered it still survive and pervade. Freedom and independence still do not exist for all in America. The fight for equality and equity is still on-going. It is not over because not everyone is truly free and, ever more the worse, many refuse to acknowledge this truth.

“God mend thine every flaw.”

We are such a flawed nation, dear readers. We pull away the rights and access that we were taught were the very basis and foundation for our country’s creation in the first place. We deny others the security, equality, and freedoms that we have enjoyed. We shove people out instead of welcoming them in. We revel in and even proudly display our biases, our prejudices, our hatreds, and out the other corner of our mouths, we declare this “the greatest country on earth”. It is not. We have not fed the hungry, sheltered the homeless, clothed the naked. We have not welcomed the desperate stranger nor loved our neighbors as ourselves (no exceptions). We are not free. Not yet.

So, as we cook our hot dogs and terrify our pets with colorful explosions, let’s not forget, dear friends, that one of our most “patriotic” songs acknowledges the long way we have yet to go and prays for us in it.

Till all success be nobleness.”

We are not free because not everyone is free or has the equity or ability to live with dignity and rights. Freedom has never been and still is not yet “for all”. We are not done yet. So don’t you dare think that this is the time to sit back and rest on your laurels and admire how great America is. We aren’t there. Not yet. We are closer. But not there yet.

So. Finish up your hot dog and potato salad, make sure that your sparklers are all the way out, and get up. Let’s go. There’s still work to do, friends–for our loved ones, for our neighbors (all of them), for our country. Let’s go make it beautiful.

What Is This Feeling, Sudden and New?


I think I get what Elphaba and Galinda were singing about now. Well, in a way, at least.

Our family has recently grown by one member. This new member is about 11 inches long, weighs approximately 1lb, has beautiful blue-green eyes, and the sweetest little tufts of white fur stick out between his toes. Yes, our newest family member is a little two-month-old kitten named Jack (or, as I call him in my head, Jackson Ozymandias Snyder). He has been in our house for almost a week now and has thoroughly claimed all three of us as his own. He is slight and light, with his own unique little meow, and we love him dearly already. But, somehow, amidst that love, this kitten has settled like a weight within my chest. A little ball of anxiety curled up amidst the playfulness and comfort, Fear and worry over this additional little life for which I am now responsible and the routine of life which he has totally upended. Now we have another’s comfort, safety, and well-being to consider, whose needs may be far different than ours.

I did not expect this anxiety upon keeping the promise of a kitten to my daughter. I did not expect an abject fear so great that I wanted to hand him back to his foster family and call the whole thing off. Fear that I might fail him, like I failed Ozymandias before him. Our Ozzy who had to be re-homed after Lizzy was born because I, in my postpartum struggles, did not have the energy to expend to redirect his dissatisfaction with this squalling pink thing that we had brought home and that was constantly in his spots. We did re-home him on my in-laws’ farm but he got out and disappeared. We have no idea what happened to him after that and, unbeknownst to me, the guilt had buried deep. I had broken my promise of a forever home. I had failed him.

I absolutely did not expect the guilt and fear of that failure to crash over and try to drown me in this new attempt. In private, I have breathed, cried, and wrung my hands when the urge to give Jack back is strongest. When he curls into my lap after his favorite little playmate has gone to bed and turns into a little void loaf, purring as loudly as ever he can, I cup my hand around his tiny head or the curve of his back and murmur to him. I tell Jack how imperfect I am, how I have failed before, but I also promise to do my best for him. I promise to keep him fed, sheltered, healthy, and to love him as much as I can. I will be imperfect; I will fail. But I am going to do my best to love him, teach him “soft paws”, enrich him, and help him feel forever safe.

The anxiety is still here, just as it is for my daughter as she goes about her first week of summer camp, but I don’t want to stay stuck in it. Maybe this is a first step forward in my wider work of healing and recovery in the midst of my anxiety: choosing to trust that I will do my best and believing that, day to day, that it is enough for that moment. I love little Jack. So does my daughter; she says thank you for him at least once a day and aches to get back to him at the end of camp. My husband burst into tears when Jack climbed into and curled up in his lap for the first time of his own accord. I know he carries the guilt of Ozzy’s fate, too. But we will do our best. I know we will.

Whatever you are facing in your journey today, dear Reader, do not despair. You will be imperfect, it’s rather unavoidable, but do not let that keep you from trying. Your best will vary from day to day but, no matter what, it will be your best and it will be enough for that moment. I believe that. And I believe in you.

Quiet vs. Silence


I am an introvert. That is how God fashioned me, and I have never minded it. I don’t mind being on my own, reading, watching Netflix, singing, dozing, and writing. It is how I rest, recharge, and recover from the rigors of the day-to-day. I like quiet.

Life is not very quiet.

I teach eighth grade; eighth-graders, and students in general, are not quiet. I also have a rambunctious six-year-old Gryffindor of a child; she is not quiet. Life is very rarely quiet, so I will grab it with both hands whenever I can find it.

For some of my dear ones, this concept is a bit perplexing: my need for quiet, specifically alone quiet. The need to be by myself. Some of them are the opposite: they don’t like to be alone. And I get that; it’s part of their extroverted personalities. It is part of the way God fashioned them, and I have never minded that. Recently, though, I found myself explaining to my husband that quiet and silence are two different things for me. Up until that point, I had not ever thought about it in that way. It boils down to these two realities: Quiet restores me, but silence destroys me.

I have written on silence in friendships/relationships and how it affects me before (https://awriterbecoming.com/2014/11/02/nablopomo-day-2-the-weight-of-silence/), and that is still true. Quiet, however, is different. I have read quite a few writings on the benefits of silence but have never found any that differentiate between silence and quiet in the manner that they do for me. There is much to be and that is said for the meditative benefits of silence, sinking into it in order to still your mind and soul. But that is not what I am talking about here. I am not talking about meditation. I am talking about restoration.

For me, quiet is restorative. Quiet often includes comforting ambient noise, providing a baseline to my heartbeat. The hum of the refrigerator in the kitchen or the air conditioning in the bedroom, even the trill of birdsong in a forest doesn’t bother me. Those things are part of the quiet, of the space in which I can recover. Quiet can be my choosing to spend the day without talking, thus letting my mind roam. Quiet can also be having the space and freedom to sing at the top of my lungs all day if I want, refilling the creativity of my soul. Just the other day, I managed to get home a few hours before my husband and daughter, and I indulged in a long hot shower, a fried chicken dinner, and an episode of Gentleman Jack. Yes, it was super indulgent and restorative in the middle of quite a crazy, stressful week.

Quietness feels natural to me. Quiet is stillness. It glides across the floor and invites me to sit and rest. For me, quiet must often be sought out. I need to specifically carve out time to be quiet and to slow down. Sometimes this is by myself; sometimes it is with very select company. Rarely does this happen in large groups, however. Fun can happen there, but quiet does not. Quiet helps to restore me, helps me recover.

Silence, on the other hand, is a completely different thing  for me. Silence, particularly in friendships/relationships, feels sullen and heavy. It strides across the floor, takes up space and air, and my stomach drops when its weight settles in the room. Whereas quiet is a natural state for me, silence feels deliberate, pointed. Silence feels like withholding, whether that is a withholding of communication, honesty, warmth, connection, or all of the above. It is, as a friend put it, “the absence of an outside world, the world that quiet gives us leave from. Silence is isolation.” Isolation. That is exactly what it feels like! When I encounter silence, that profound ‘nothing’, I feel like I am isolated from that person or situation. It hurts.  Just as when a fridge or a fan suddenly turns off and the stillness that comes is so disturbingly complete as to be startling, so silence can trigger a constant alarm in my soul. Alert! Alert! Something is wrong! And that constant tension shakes me apart. I cannot sleep when silence comes to stay. It is too heavy; it makes breathing feel like an Olympic feat. As I told my husband, silence destroys me.

Yes, quiet and silence are very different for me. In the midst of quiet, I can begin to calm. Silence puts me on pins and needles. Understanding that has brought me a measure of peace. Realizing that there is indeed a marked difference between the two for me has helped me put quite a few things into perspective, even if my view of silence and quiet differs from that of others. I am an introvert. I like quiet. That is how God fashioned me, and I have never minded it.

Nudging the Door Open (NYE 2018)


As today dawned, I realized that I had nothing prepared to post. No reflection, no little story indicative of where my heart and mind are right now. Nothing was prepared. Even now, sitting in my daughter’s darkened room while she falls asleep, writing by the light from the hallway, I am tempted to feel like I failed by being too busy or full-minded to give this year much thought. But, then again, it has been a busy, full-minded year. I spent a good portion of this year feeling and being not altogether myself. Stress took a heavy toll in the first half of 2018, as did change the resulting different routines and schedules. I finally made a significant health change earlier this fall that seems to have helped immensely with some of my balance and peace of mind, along with some emotional and mental work and growth. It’s been heavy lifting and it’s not over yet, but I feel that I am better for it.

2018 was a year full of change, both for myself and for dear ones close to me, and also a year of some beautiful, joyful moments.  I was gifted with the most amazing birthday in years by my loving husband and dear friends (I’m still chuffed from that, too). I also had the opportunity to throw off adulthood and run away to Disney and Harry Potter World for a Dapper Day weekend with a girlfriend. It was utterly splendid!

As this New Year’s Eve wanes, I hear the wind howling outside the windows of my house, and I find myself hoping that it will sweep away the figurative dark and dank and cold, the literal scary and disappointing and painful of this year, sweeping the doorstep clear for the new one.

So I will unlock the door and nudge it open to let the cool, end-of-year air sweep through to see 2018 out and usher 2019 in. It may stand there on the doorstep, blinking in the light, confused and maybe a little scared, just as we are. For a long moment, we may stand there staring at it and it at us. I hope we will take a deep breath and step forward to meet the new year with kindness, courage, determination, and truth.

So happy New Year, dear ones. May your year and selves be blessed.

Preparing for Perhaps


I don’t really know how to begin here. I want something pithy, such as “When The Start Feels Too Much Like a Start”, but, at the same time, it feels like I would be trivializing what I want to talk about. And I’m too tired for trivial. (Case in Point: I started writing this blog post two weeks ago.)

Today marks fourteen days into the new school year, and I am utterly exhausted. It feels as though there never was a break between May and now. I just blinked, that’s all. The students are just about done honeymooning. I’m pouring out energy on top of energy as I have worked to figure out my daughter’s school arrangements, too. I’m already losing control of the cleanliness of the house (and, as I drafted this two weeks ago, I realized that I had forgotten to leave a note for my husband to turn over the laundry when he got up!). Life is busier than ever.

On the first day of students’ return, as I prayed before slipping out of bed to start the day, I found myself requesting something quite unexpected.

“Lord, if you have something else for me, please start preparing me for it.”

Now I say that this is unexpected, not because I haven’t wanted to do something other than teaching, because I have definitely thought about it, but because I honestly am unsure of just what that “something else” would be. I’ve said this since the beginning: teaching was ever the only plan. There was never a Plan B. So, if God does indeed have something else in mind for me, it begs the question of what exactly it could be.

Here are some truths:

  • I am good at teaching. I am. I am knowledgeable, and I do a good job at passing that knowledge along in an understandable way to my students.
  • I cannot remember a Sunday night when I was excited about going to work the next day and only a handful of days in the past nine years that I ever felt so about coming to school. I don’t necessarily joy in it like some teachers do. It takes a lot.
  • I do enjoy emotional education. Those are the lessons and discussions that I find my heart pouring out in: teaching students to be empathetic, show love, have courage, and be kind.

Part of me aches to do something else, something new, but, at the same time, the idea of such change and upheaval is profoundly frightening and stressful. But I will keep on praying this prayer, and I hope that I am not just being a stubborn Jonah.

 

When you are Forced to Single Step


As I pointed out earlier this year, I am not good at taking “just the next step”. My brain is a mess and machination of often-escalating worries, what-ifs, and contingency plans. Recently, however, I was forced—yes, I do mean forced—to take a single step at a time through what was, for me, quite a crisis. Did I like it? No. Did I enjoy being reminded my dearly-beloved husband that I needed to single-step? Not really. Did I even want to take those single steps? No, not really again. I was hoping against hope that it would just resolve itself but, like a myriad of problems in life, it just doesn’t work that way. Did my brain run away with me with the withertos, whyfores, and what-ifs? Oh, my heavens, YES!

But I had no choice. I could only take the next step in the process in order to be sure of anything at that point. I had to take it step by step. Instead of me running 100 steps ahead, I was forced to only take a single step at a time. And, while nerve-wracking, everything turned out fine. In fact, something extra good that I was hoping to accomplish was able to get started out of the whole affair. In the end, I find myself somewhat thankful for it all.

As the summer begins its exit, stage right, all too quickly and I can see the school year bouncing on the balls of its feet in the wings, I am again facing a situation where I will need—probably with copious reminders—to take just the next step. There are many changes that will come with this school year. I will have my largest 8th grade class yet (between 160 and 170 students, and I teach all of them); we have a new principal of our school; and I am implementing curriculum changes that, while I think they will be good, will take some serious getting used to and will likely be far from perfect for this year. Am I nervous? Yes. Am I scared even? Yes. I am nervous and scared at the beginning of every school year. 100+ new faces, 100+ new names to place with them, curriculum to implement, adjust, and differentiate for varying skill levels.

Yes, I am always nervous before school begins. But I can’t take all the steps at once there either, can I? I am forced to take one step at a time. One day at a time. Now that my curriculum is done and approved and I have finished gathering supplies for my classroom, I can focus on my next steps: class syllabus and About Me presentation for the first day of school. One step at a time.

As you move through today, through this weekend and the coming week, don’t be afraid of just the next step. I know it’s maddening. I know it’s nerve-wracking. But it will be okay, dear one. Even when it feels like it may not, it will be. Just take one step at a time. That’s all you can take. It’s all you can do. But it is everything.

one step at a time

Sneaky Houses


On the way to my girl’s preschool, just across from the golf course, there is a row of houses. These houses are all set back from the road a bit, their driveways curving down into little valleys with the buildings nestled behind and in the deep cool green of ancient trees. My husband calls them “sneaky houses”.

I love sneaky houses. I love how they nestle there behind the treeline, screened, protected, and partially hidden. You can see them but only if you’re looking. If you’re not paying attention, you’d drive right by them. They hide there in plain sight, their beauty just barely peeking out. You have to look for them to find them. I also love that they are like people, particularly the people who have become the dearest and most special to me. Just like those sneaky houses, if we can look past what barriers people have been erected, the protections that have been hewn out, sink into the deepness of them, we may just find them even cozier and more welcoming than we originally thought.

Yes, I really do love sneaky houses.

Space to Breathe


Written Sunday, May, 20, 2018

I love Indiana mornings in the late spring and into summer. There’s a stillness to the mornings: the birds singing over their breakfasts, the leaves rustling. No cacophony  of the day yet, just the sounds of the world waking up, beginning. My soul can breathe in these moments, not pant in the rushing or gasp in the lack of space. In these mornings, I can truly “taste and see that the Lord is good”. I can drink in the quiet, breathe, and remember why I love living where I do. There are still so many lovely places left for me to discover, moments of peace I’ve yet to have, of beauty I’ve yet to witness.

Right now, immediately right now, all I want is to go for ad rive to somewhere beautiful in the countryside. It’s all I’m thinking about in this morning, honestly. I just want the sun and the breeze and away from the noise of life. I want rustling leaves, rushing and babbling water, freshness, and clean air. Maybe on Memorial Day or something, I can make this happen somehow, or at least sometime soon.

I have been lacking space to breathe lately, space for my soul to just be and feel. Even when my daughter is abed, I’m still Mommy that waiting just in case she wakes up. I’m still Wife who frets about what housework still needs to be done. I rarely have spaces where I can just be Mel, where my soul can breathe instead of pant or gasp. I want more of them, I need more of them. I want to breathe, both lungs and soul.

So that is my goal for this summer: to breathe.

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Five Minutes in the Frost


Earlier this week, in listening to her The Next Right Thing podcast, I took Emily P. Freeman’s admonition to give myself just five quiet minutes to heart. So, this morning, as I took out the trash, I gave myself five extra minutes in the frosty outside. I wandered around the front yard, looking at the flower beds that I planted back in September, with the help of my husband and father in law. I can see the shoots of my flowers–daffodils and crocuses–pushing up through the mulch in defiance of the cold, and I find myself growing more and more excited every day. I’m ready to see their colors burst out in vibrancy after a cold, bleak winter.

The sun had just come up about an hour previous, and I could see the rays and glow branching out in the sky from behind our house. The air was bright and “clear and cold and so clean it almost sparkled” (S.E. Hinton, The Outsiders), and birdsong filled the new morning. It felt as though the birds were rabid to make up for those frozen silent weeks of the winter when the icy cold stole all sound and wrapped the world in a thick quiet. Later on in the day, as I left the house for errands, I noted the same flower shoots looking even perkier in the now fully-bright and warm sunlight.

Spring is coming, I can feel my heart sing. The sun, the light, the warmth, and the color are returning, and I honestly cannot wait. After a busy, hectic, stressful week, those five minutes did me a world of good.

 

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.