Casting of Light

I watched in fascination and more than a little awe as the candle rays intersected, bisected each other, arced, and danced across the wall over the steaming bathtub. The flickering wicks made the facsimiled sunbeams dance and bow, the bubbles in the tub taking on a brighter luminescence for brief seconds. 

I sank into the hot water, the light from only the candle pouring over my skin, splashing its earthy tone with gold, and the soft piano music trickling its sweetness into my soul. Days, though long and good on the earth, can leave my spirit devoid of quiet and awe. I had come, like a pilgrim to a wildwood chapel, seeking them, and I found them in flickering candle shadows on my bathroom wall. 

Where to Start

“I know I need self-care, to do some things just for me. But, honestly, right now I’m not sure where to even start.” 

I said those exact words to a friend the other night as we worked out together. When we were done working out, I didn’t feel the satisfaction that I have in the past really. I was just tired. Tired from the workout, tired from being sick, tired from going and doing, tired from being stuck in the house with a recuperating toddler. I haven’t really cared for myself in the past two weeks, save for a hot shower here and there and the occasional bit of ice cream. I need some serious self-care. But I am a bit at a loss for just how to start that process of refilling my cups and spoon drawer, of gathering all the pieces of myself back home together and seeing them all put together as a beautiful whole.

But, today, without even really determining to, I found that I was as utterly true to myself as I could be. I was gifted with precious words and ideas and accepted them as divine appointment and encouragement, even if they were not necessarily the normal places in which I looked for or expected spiritual nourishment. I wrote letters for those who could use a little more light and love this Christmas season. I chatted with a dear friend and we smiled as our daughters babbled and giggled back and forth at each other across the miles through the computer screens.

I dressed to feel pretty. I got out of the house. I delivered notes to friends. I picked up packages at the post office and smiled as the wonderful lady who works there doted on my daughter. I donated where I felt led. I walked and smiled at other shoppers as my girl waved her hellos. I was patient and pleasant with overwrought salespeople and rejoiced in the treasures found. I wrapped and packaged those treasures in paper and bound them up with the joy they will hopefully bring to their recipients.

Now evening is here and my husband is singing “Rainbow Connection” with Bizzy (yes, she actually sings along) in an attempt to get her to settle and accept that, yes, it actually is bedtime (She is quite adamant that it is not and that she wants to play with her toys). And really I am full of a single thought, a single feeling that threads into everything else I am feeling right now.

It’s been a good day.

As for my self-care, I think today was a good place to start.


That Other Feeling

There are days when I feel that I am inexplicably Other. Other from other people. Friends, family, companions, peers. Other even from myself. It’s difficult to explain. It’s not a feeling of sadness or anger. It’s more a feeling of being off-center, of having slipped slightly to the left or something. Like I am standing beside my world rather than within it.

I feel like Alice, sometimes. That I am, somehow, not quite myself. Though, I suppose that might be true for many of us.

Sacred Spaces: My Backyard

For a long while, I have had a blank document sitting in my Microsoft Word and it is entitled “Sacred Spaces”. I had an idea of what I wanted to write in it but could never quite find the words to express it. Also, what specific spaces would I write about? Then, this morning, it came to me. Well, the beginning did.

After our walk this morning, I took my daughter out to our backyard to play. I sat on the porch swing that is hung on our swing set frame beneath a large oak and made myself stay put while she ran to and fro between the swing set/slide and her playhouse just beyond our mulberry tree. This is one of my sacred spaces: my morning backyard. I love my backyard in the mornings. Overspread with deliciously cool shade,Sacred spaces - backyard only dappled by the sun, and a cool eastern breeze at my back. Heavenly! Now, sometimes, my backyard isn’t quite so pleasant. If it has been frequently rainy or muggy, the bugs are often out in force, which means nothing good for me. But, on an average morning, this is its norm. I spent our time in the backyard swaying placidly in the big swing, enjoying the breeze on my back and shoulders, my reverie only broken by Elizabeth’s request for me to help her into her swing and then swing in the “big girl” swing beside her. Later, I held her on my lap while she drank some water and, together, we listened in silence to the world. We heard the leaves rustling with the breeze, the birds chirping in branches nearby, the deep barking of dogs down the street, and the distant rumble of an oncoming train.

This is one of the places where my daughter learns about the world around her. It is where she is learning to play and climb and imagine. It is where she pulls bark off the oak to look at it more closely. It is where she strips the leaves off a fallen branch to make a sword. It is where she picks grass blades in order to “cook food” in her playhouse. It is where she picks a handful of “flowers” (weeds) and tosses them into the air with a joyful abandon. This is where she worships in her own toddler way.

This sacred space is where I am learning, too. I am learning to breathe, to inhale the quiet that can be found in the foreground of a moment and let the rest fade into the background. I am learning to release my fear and worry and to trust my child’s courage. I am learning to sit in silence and just be, to feel the heartbeat of the world and to find my soul reaching out to it. This is where I am remembering that God will be Who He will be. Remembering that God will be just what I need as I go through life. I have sat in this backyard time and again, sometimes in tears, sometimes in frustration, sometimes in so much pain that I can barely breathe. I have shared this pain with others and borne it alone. Other times, I have sat in this place and shared laughs and stories with family and friends, the fire casting golden glows over our faces or the moon its blue moonlight over our forms. Three years ago, I sat in the quiet around dying embers and marveled in awe at the truth that my husband and I would soon be parents. I have found my heart bursting with joy for the beauty and peace that can be found in so small and simple a place as I call home.

This is my sacred space. This is my holy ground.

Well, one of them anyway. As I said, this is the beginning.


NaBloPoMo 2014 Day 10: Home is where the Heart Is

On the way home from errands today, I was listening to Michael Buble’s Christmas album (hush, I can listen to music whenever I please, regardless of season) and he began to sing “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”. I always smile when I hear that song, remembering the years that I would board two to three planes to wend my way to my home with my parents for the holidays. Now, more and often, I realize that I will be home for Christmas, without ever leaving.

I have lived in Indiana for the past fourteen years, the first six of which I was in undergrad and then graduate school. Ever since I first set foot in this state, I knew I was where I was supposed to be. It wasn’t for several years that I would come to call it home, however. When I left southern Indiana and headed north of Indy for graduate school, I was homesick for my world of the past four years something terrible. I promised myself that this new city would “never be home”. I have no problem admitting that I was terribly, terribly wrong. It is most definitely home. It is where I live with my husband, where my daughter was born, where my in-laws live, where I first started my teaching career. It is where I discovered myself and crafted my life as an adult. This is home. Amongst the fields, the woods, the cities, and the surprising little towns. That’s not to say that the place where I grew up isn’t home as well. It is. It keeps my family and my memories, but it is more ‘childhood home’, where I used  to live. My bedroom in my parents’ house is a guest/craft room now, with only a few vestiges of it ever having belonged to a kid-teenager-young woman at one point. But that’s all right.

This is where my heart is. This is home. I will be home for Christmas, and that makes my heart swell.

Stranger in the Mirror

My most recent article published by The Well Written Woman:

“My aging was very sudden. I saw it spread over my features one by one, changing the relationship between them, making the eyes larger, the expression sadder, the mouth more final, leaving great creases in the forehead. But instead of being dismayed I watched this process with the same sort of interest I might have taken in the reading of a book.” – Marguerite Duras, The Lover

I have a few friends who have sometimes exclaimed to me that I haven’t changed my looks since I was seventeen. Heavens above, but I hope I have. And I think I have, too. Looking at myself in the mirror, I often have to push past the tendency to see myself at seventeen, the first major changing point in my life: when I went off to college. That image of me has stuck rather stubbornly over the past fourteen years. But, if I can look past it, I can study my reflection for quite a long time and find subtle differences.

I think back over the critical points of my life and how my body – my physical form – has changed and transformed with them. I gained eight pounds my freshman year of college and no one at home had the heart to tell me until I wore my favorite dress to my friends’ high school graduation. Afterward, I was told by a young man that I had known from my church’s youth group that I shouldn’t have worn it, that I “looked fat”. I don’t think I ever wore that dress again, nor spoke to him beyond what was polite.  That dress, formerly beloved and the very same one that, only a year or two prior, I had been proclaimed “beautiful” in by another young man (can’t tell you how many times I read that email), the poor thing faded away into obscurity in my closet. Don’t know what happened to it to this day. What can I say? Words have power and the social movement for self-love in young women was at least another decade off.

In my first semester of graduate school, with the stress and a myriad of changes in my life, I lost almost twenty pounds in quick succession, my rapid weight loss finally slowing to pause around ninety-seven or ninety-eight pounds. It was corrected with a visit to the doctor, some meds, and conscious efforts to relax a bit more the following semester. However, that didn’t stop the comments of “You look great! You lost so much weight!” when I went home for the holidays. Unfortunately, they weren’t as much of a compliment as those giving them probably intended for them to be, as I knew that I was currently unhealthy. But, eventually, I found a happy and healthy place again.

I am a late bloomer as far as my looks and physique go, at least in my opinion. My skin has never been perfect but I can keep it fairly under control. My body never really settled into its shape until after I got married. As I entered my thirties last year, I found that I began to notice a more mature look to my eyes, the curve of my cheeks, and the turn of my mouth. If I tilt my head, I find the line of my jaw. I trace it with my fingers and find it still strong, still defined but without all the softness of my youth. A softness is still there but of a different sort, borne of a deeper understanding of love and life. Sometimes I hardly recognize myself. I see a new depth of experience in my eyes and wonder, “Where did that come from?” Smiles and laughter have begun to imprint themselves in the corners of my mouth, moments that I cherish and am thankful for hiding there along with Mrs. Darling’s kiss. I read, with my fingers, the slope of my neck into my shoulder and find it strong from burdens borne. The way I hold my hands is permanently influenced by my years in belly dance. I’ve lost a bit of my curve since having my daughter, my waist coming out to meet my hips a bit more. There’s more of a fullness here, a roundness there. A scar where there was none before. The landscape of my body has changed over the past fourteen years, and that’s all right.

I am finding that I am growing happier and happier with myself. I have managed to lose most of the baby weight after fourteen months and I am getting back into toning again, little by little. But, most of all, I am learning to appreciate myself for just that: myself. That is hard work in and of itself, an exercise of the mental and the emotional as well as the physical. I cannot pretend to tell you how it’s done; I don’t have a secret, I don’t have an answer. Just a fortunate turn in years of difficulty with self-esteem and body image. It catches me by surprise sometimes, me looking at myself and smiling. When did I become so chummy with myself? I don’t really know, but I like it.