Turning on the Lights


BloPoMo Day 11

“Turn toward grace and you turn on all the lights.” – Ann Voskamp

When I was little and I was scared, I turned on all the lights in the house. That way nothing could jump out and frighten me. I could see what and who was around me and know that I was safe. This week, I feel like I have been running around trying to turn on all the lights. Not just for myself but also for those I love, those who are worried, despairing, angry, or fearful. I want them to see who is around them. I want them to know that they are safe with them, with us.

But I’m also turning on the lights so that others can see. I am turning on the lights so that others can see they are scared. I am turning on the lights so that they can see each other. So people can see people.

I am turning on the lights so that people can see what they are forgetting: that we belong to each other.

I am turning on the lights so that hopefully we can remember to have courage and be kind.

I am turning on the lights that we can remember to love fiercely.

I am turning on the lights so that hopefully we can really see each other, and that we can hopefully choose to sit with each other in the real and have the strength and grace to stick it out through the hard.

I have spent my week running around, trying to turn on all the lights I can, shed all the love, all the light, all the grace I can. I know that things are not okay. I know that people are not okay. I’m not going to tell them–tell you–to be okay; I’m not going to tell you that. I’m not going to tell anyone–ANYONE–to not be angry or worried or scared or upset or to feel anything other than what they feel.

I am turning on the lights so you can see something other than the darkness. I am turning on the lights so that you can see my hand held out to you. So you know where to reach if you need or want it. I am turning on the lights so you can see me sitting next to you, can see my arms held open.

Don’t worry, dear one: I’m turning on the lights.

BloPoMo Day 3: “Grace in the Empty”


I spent most of the last week feeling like death warmed over, in the grips of a horrible seasonal head-cold. I blundered and slogged through the school day as best I could and would then collapse at home. We subsisted on take out and fast food, the laundry, dishes, and tidying went undone, and I was the most lackluster of playmates and confined to indoors, much to my daughter’s chagrin.

I felt awful but, even more, I felt guilty. Guilty for not cooking healthy meals for my family. Guilty for not cleaning my home. Guilty that we were running out of clean hand towels for the bathroom because I had not done the laundry. So, on top of being sick, I was also loaded up with guilt over something that I really could not control.

Then, as it often does, a quote floated to the front of my mind. Something I have read many times before about being unable to pour from an empty cup. And, boy, was I surely empty. Empty of strength, empty of health, empty of patience, empty of energy. I was a walking, coughing, sore, empty cup. I had nothing to pour out right then so I pulled myself together enough to decided that, for the nonce, I needed to sit in my emptiness. I needed to lean into the nothing and just take care of myself. So, as I arrived home from school each day, after making sure my people were fed and settled, I plunked myself down on the couch, pulled up the hood of my wonderfully voluminous robe (thank you for that perfect Christmas gift, dear husband) and tried to rest. I even went so far as to take a sick day from work, something virtually unheard of for me. I needed to take care of myself; moreover, I needed to allow myself to take care of myself.

Until a few short years ago, I didn’t realize that allowing myself to rest and let all the things I thought I “should” be doing go for a while actually had a name, that it actually was grace. I had no idea that not berating myself for what wasn’t done was giving myself grace. I knew that grace is unmerited favor or mercy, that it can be demonstrated when we make allowances for others’ shortcomings, or when we tell them that it’s okay when things aren’t perfect. However, I really didn’t know that there was such a thing as giving grace to yourself. The truth is that we, you and I, need grace as much as the next person. This is often the argument for extending it outward, because we know badly we need it ourselves. However, I strongly believe that it also serves as a valid argument for extending it inward to our own hearts and souls, too. We need to give ourselves permission to simply be, even when we are imperfect in our being (which is, honestly, all the time).

Perfection is not only unattainable, it is unnecessary. We do not need to be the perfect wife, the perfect husband, the perfect parent. We do not need to be the perfect host, the perfect volunteer, or the perfect anything, really. We are human, we are flawed, our stores are finite, and there is no shame in admitting such. No shame is stepping back, admitting our emptiness, and doing what we can to care for ourselves and refill.

The past two days, I have been hit by the post-illness industriousness that comes with returning health. I have cleaned, cooked, washed, tidied, and vacuumed, scrabbling my little world to rights. Apparently, the mood was so infections that my four-year-old daughter took it upon herself to join in the fray by cleaning her room, all by herself and with no request from me! (Miracle!) With this, I have experience the satisfaction and joy of a job well done, rather than lamenting the letdown of a job attempted while I was way too tired to do it well. By giving myself grace, I managed to give myself the gift

There is no shame in giving ourselves grace. In allowing for our own personal shortcomings and giving ourselves permission for things to be imperfect, for our steps forward in progress to perhaps be small for the nonce. There is no shame in allowing ourselves to lean into our emptiness, sit in our nothing for a while, take care of ourselves, and refill our cup.

{“I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint.” – Jeremiah 31:25}

Be softer on yourself, dear friend. Give yourself a little grace in your empty moments. Have a sit. Eat something yummy and drink something warm. Read a book that you enjoy. Nestle and watch a movie with your people. Refill, refresh, and be. Trust me. The dishes will still be there tomorrow after a good night’s sleep. They will wait for you. So should you.

 

To Print Love on Others


Two days ago, I had a thought. I was in need of joy and the best way I know to garner joy is to give it as best I can. Bundling that thought up in my fist, I went to the dollar store and bought a pretty storage box. That took quite a bit of deliberation as I am sucker for a pretty box. You have no idea how much self-control it took to not buy all the pretty storage containers and vessels to use somehow in my classroom. All that to say that I left the store with just what I needed for my plan.

The next day, I typed up and printed ten encouraging quotes/sayings/thoughts that had always been an uplift to me. Then I made photocopies and then cut them out, folded them, and placed them in the box. Give it a good shake and we were ready.

Today, after long period blocks of mandated early-semester testing, I handed these simple slips of paper, these drops of (hopefully) encouragement, to my students as they left my classroom. I am also urging them to add to the box if they think of or find encouraging quotes or things to say. Because everyone can use an encouraging word now and again, and building each other up is a habit that it is never too early (or too late) for anyone to learn.

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Moments of Glory


I felt the glorious tonight, and I realized something. There are few times that I feel more sensual, more alluring, more glorious than when I am being slow and slinky in belly dance. When I am being deliberate and controlled, powerful and serpentine, particularly with snake arms. There’s a power in the movement, as well as a power in the one performing it. There is a strength, endurance, and control that the movement requires to be flowing and mesmerizing. There is also a feeling that goes with it, a confidence, a fierceness. I saw it in the raising of my chin, the tilt of my head, the deep, warm light in my eyes (I even had a thought that they could rival Anne Boleyn’s famed “dark hooks for the soul”), and the curve of my lips. It started without, curled and coiled within, and then flowed outward again, suffusing my body, mind, and soul.

It’s been a long while since I danced. Almost a year. Being back in boot camp class–conditioning, drilling, practicing, perfecting–reminds me of the beauty, strength, and the power that I found in the dance. And in myself as I did it. As my calves are so poignantly reminding me after Egyptian “choo-choo” shimmy drills, this dance, like any other, takes power. It takes strong muscles for control and precision in the movements, as well as developed endurance and stamina to make it through open dances and choreography without dropping to the floor. And even though performing really isn’t my thing anymore, I still love the dance. I love the drills, I love the conditioning, I love learning to move my body in new, prepossessing ways. In ways that make me feel beautiful, charming, captivating, mesmerizing (our goal-word when I first started dancing).

I felt the glorious tonight, and I’m holding on to that sublimity.

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Muncie Gras 2010. Photography by Rachel Penticuff.

 

Encouragement for Sunday Night


OK, LOVES! It’s Sunday night. Monday is on deck, another week ready and raring to go. Sunday nights can be dark nights sometimes and rather trepidatious. So: that is why I am here. If, tonight, you are feeling a bit unsteady, I want to remind you of a few things:

You are strong.
You are beautiful.
You are intelligent.
You are loved.
You are enough.
You can do this.

If you feel like you could use a bit more of a pick-me-up–words spoken just for and to you–I’m more than happy to try my best to do that. Feel free to comment below. I would love to encourage you, love on you, and, if you will let me or would like, to pray for you over whatever this week and your life hold for you.

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BloPoMo Day 8: What I Can Do, I Will Do.


Let me preface this by being very honest and admitting that I have not had a very good (does a quick count) almost twenty-four hours. I went to bed in exhausted tears last night (you know, the kind of tears that you don’t realize you’re crying until you’re in the middle of crying). I slept fitfully and was dream-harried all night, and then I woke up in tears, a nightmare shaking me to my core and filling me with heartache and sadness as I rose to go about my Sunday.

As I drove myself and my daughter to church, I found myself having a very candid and brutally honest talk with God. It’s been a while since I had a verbal chat with Him and was a little surprised when it just all came spilling out. If my girl was older, I probably would have kept it to myself, I think, but, as she was thoroughly occupied with her balloon and rocket drawing, the flood doors just sort of opened.

I won’t rehash everything that I talked about with God. In fact, I’m not sure I could rehash it all. But what it boiled down to, at the end of it all, was this:

While I might at times feel stressed, sad, overwhelmed, lonely, just rawr at the world, etc. (sometimes without even an explanation to be given), there is something I can choose to do. Something I have asked God to help me with especially.

“Please, help me to be what I think I need for someone else.”

Sometimes, feeling absolutely sucks! I don’t want others in my corner of life to have to slog through negative feelings or down moments alone if I can change that, even a little bit. I always have a choice in the midst of feeling of how I am going to act or react. So that is my personal challenge this week: to be what I think I need (company, listening ear, strong shoulder, comforting embrace, truth-speaker, etc.). And maybe I can make those moments and feelings a bit easier for someone else’s heart and soul.

From "Unglued" by Lysa TerKeurst

From “Unglued” by Lysa TerKeurst

The Space at Center Stage


For those of you unfamiliar with me, body image has been a fairly constant struggle of mine for most of my life. This struggle has intensified at several different point in my life, the most recent being with the up and down weight bouncing I experienced post-baby. Almost three years later, my weight seems to have settled for now, I work out just about every day, I’m adjusting my eating habits bit by bit, and, this past week, I felt pretty darn amazing. I can now see the changes in my body, feel the differences as I develop more muscle and strength. It’s a relief, in a way, to see that almost eight months’ worth of consistent hard work is paying off. That might not seem like much to some, but it is quite a big deal to me. I hated doing conventional exercises, I hated the very idea of running, and the gym? Yeah, no thanks. But I made a decision and have pushed myself to stick with it, constantly reminding myself to be patient and keep working.

“It takes time,” I would and still say to myself, “It takes time. Be patient with yourself and keep working.”

A good many things in life, we work at for a long while before we see any results, and we are told that the best things do not come with instant gratification. Instead, we must work and work and work some more and wait to see what comes to fruition, if it comes to fruition. I have stuck with this and worked and worked and worked and I am seeing the fruit of my labor, not only in curves and tone and heavying dumbells but also in finding satisfaction in the work itself. It’s an odd, odd feeling to actually crave working out, to crave the heightened heart rate, the burn in my muscles, the sweat on my brow. It’s not just odd, it’s downright weird sometimes. But it is also beautiful.

It is beautiful to see the changes in myself, not just in my body. It’s beautiful to again feel the desire to be me, fully and boldly, and to do something about it. It’s beautiful to not be afraid of being beautiful and acting like it. It’s not just body image, it’s a sense of self that I am regaining. For a long time (longer than I would like to admit), I have felt like I needed to tone myself down, step back out of the spotlight, stick to my corner, etc. As if, if I were too much ‘me’, then there wouldn’t be space for someone else to be ‘them’. I don’t understand that idea; I didn’t then and I don’t now. And, honestly, I am damn tired of it. Me being me does not threaten anyone, nor should it. Each and every one of us is completely different. We are unique and glorious all on our own. Me being me does not mean that someone else has to be any less them or vice versa.

This does not mean that we need to shove everyone else out of the way. It doesn’t mean that we cannot work behind the scenes to help someone better their own sense of self and their own lives. It doesn’t mean that we cannot wear the roles of mother, daughter, sister, girlfriend, or wife and be a support and helpmeet to someone else. What it means it that we can do all those of things, but that we mustn’t forget ourselves and the role that we play for us. Your first role: you. Don’t forget you. Don’t forget your strength. Don’t forget your spirit. Don’t forget your glorious. Don’t forget your beautiful.

A friend once said to me: “I think you could leave yourself a bit more space in the center of the stage.”

And you know what? I think they are right. It’s time for me to reclaim my space. Maybe we all could leave ourselves a bit more space in the center of the stage.