The End: When endings are the doorway to beginning

In an interview released yesterday, Eugene Peterson said if asked, he would officiate a gay marriage. As I am sure you can imagine, the internet exploded. While I agree with his position, that isn’t actually the part of the interview that brought me to tears. Instead, a bit further down the article, the interviewer spoke of endings. Mr. Peterson is 84 years old, reaching the end of a beautiful career and lifetime. The interviewer asked, “One day, as with all of us, Eugene Peterson will not be someone who exists. He will be somebody who did exist once. When that moment comes, how do you hope people will remember Eugene Peterson?”

What a question, eh? One day you will no longer exist. Here is a portion of his response…

“I haven’t been part of anything big. I’ve never been a big church preacher. I’ve never been on the radio or anything like that. I’m so pleased that people care about what I’ve done and support it because these are difficult times for the church. I’m quite aware of that. Anyway, I guess I’m just surprised that anyone would remember at all.

This is where I cried. For a thousand reasons, this honest, gentle response touched my soul. Not three sentences earlier he uttered words that will echo across blogs and tweets and facebook rants for weeks to come, without changing much. No, it’s the gift of his long, consistently beautiful life which we will remember, and he didn’t do any of it for fame or recognition. This is beautiful.

Last week I told my husband, I feel I’ve written out all my bitterness. I still have things I am angry about, of course: injustice, 45, the ways we treat each other. These things make me angry, and they should. Anger is a catalyst for change; I hope I never lose it. But bitterness is anger we turn inward, hanging on to it like a trophy, to prove our rightness, our superiority. At some point, that feeling flowed out of my fingertips and disappeared. My heart feels buoyant, expansive, and filled with light.

I have changed. Nothing else about our situation has. I’m still checking the weather in other people’s cities. I’m still a misfit in a conformist culture. I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. I really haven’t figured out anything at all. But I understand myself better, and if that is the only thing I take away from the last 100 days, then it is worth the hours and days of effort I put into it.

But it isn’t my only takeaway, not at all. Writing for one hundred days has helped me rediscover my voice, the one I use to speak when I’m not defensive or wounded or (very) afraid.  I learned to sit comfortably with fear, but not with silence, not anymore. I understand now that  I am most powerful when I love well, and sometimes the best way to love well is to let go.

Most importantly, I know I am not alone. You all came with me. Maybe not every day, but you showed up. You spoke up. You let good enough be good enough on days when showing up was the best I could do. I didn’t take this journey alone. I hope that you may also have felt a bit less lonely you yourself. Deconstruction is a difficult, often isolating experience. It’s good to hear the voices of others to help you feel normal, sane or at the very least, not condemned. Like Eugene, I’m just surprised anyone cared enough to read at all. That’s the truth.

I love new beginnings. I always have. But endings? I haven’t always done well with those. Still, here we are. Together at the end, one hundred days later. It takes an ending to give birth to something else new.

There it is. Can you see it?



Waiting on the wind to change

I met an old friend at the post office today. She is moving soon and was eager to tell me the news. While I tamped down my jealousy, we shared moving tips and ideas. She talked about her basement, and told her the best place to unload her stuff in town. we discussed packing and purging, two of my favorite things to do. I’m excited for her that everything feels like a whirlwind of change and newness. The smile on her face was absolutely contagious.

I’ve experienced change in the whirlwind fashion before. It’s equal parts exciting and terrifying, and often leaves you gasping for breath the same way running a hard mile will do. Given a choice I will always choose the rapid pace over the slower one, at least where big change is concerned. Right now, however, I clearly don’t have a choice. We’re on the slow train to change and there is no speeding this process along until the moment the pieces fall in to place. This month? Probably not. This year? Who can say.

Limbo, limbo, limbo.

Meanwhile we’re doing the things rooted people do: meal planning and school enrolling. We’re looking ahead while letting go, acknowledging the ends of seasons in healthy ways. I’m grateful for this. Grateful for the natural turning of time rather than the unexpected emptiness when the rug is yanked out from under you.

But gratitude doesn’t change the fact that I’ve got bag to haul to Goodwill in the back of my car.

We’re being stripped, right now. Down to the bare bones, the essential elements, carrying only the most essential parts of our soul – the ones we cannot give away and still remain ourselves. There’s a vulnerability and a rawness to this process. It’s damn near excruciating most days. Other times it’s wrapped around with golden threads of anticipation. Even when you don’t know what’s next. something is…something is.

So I sink my roots in portable things, routines and digital words, pictures grabbing moments and memories as they happen, in case tomorrow changes everything.

Because it could. It could for any one of us.

How to connect with your soul: Self-care adventures

Lately I am all about self-care. The more I journal about it, the more I realize it’s been years since I invested in myself. I don’t say this as a point of blame since I am solely responsible for self-care, from boundaries to application. Exploring ways to connect with my soul has turned into an adventure and a challenge this summer. Every day, I’m engaged in understanding myself better which in turn benefits everyone around me.

However, I  receive a lot of push-back when I talk about self-care with others. Most often I receive the ‘I could never do that‘ response. From healthy eating choices to the Month of No, there is a general reluctance to swim against powerful cultural currents.

Honestly, I believe we see self-care as a frivolous indulgence especially in religious circles. If we aren’t sacrificing ourselves to near burn out (or often past the point of burn out) then we certainly cannot be “good enough.” Or maybe it’s just me who absorbed this message.

Popular culture is no friend to self-care either. Our fervent pursuit of busyness, constant activity, pushing forward, get-ahead, stay-on-top, win-win-win mentality is quite literally killing us. Even though I stepped out of the consumer race several years ago, I still worshiped frequently at the ‘altar of should.’ Constantly working at things I should do, who I should be, ways my life should look, I lived the busyness mentality quite well even though I practiced minimalism.

Granted, some seasons of life simply are busier than others. Children, family needs or other personal responsibilities often make demands beyond our control. However, more often we make our loads into burdens with poor boundaries, ridiculous expectations and subscribing to the American dream. I don’t believe it’s only me who is guilty of these things. Ask the next person you see how they are, and it’s likely their response will be “Busy!

Oddly, I find it harder to answer people when they ask what I’ve been up to now that I can no longer claim “keeping busy.” How do you tell someone that occasionally, you feel downright bored. Mostly, I have enough to keep my mind working, but when I use self-restraint and stay away from time-killing distractions, I do sometimes find myself twiddling my thumbs.

What I do notice more often now is a general sense of well-being. Even when I am busier than I’d like to be, I can still feel it. By creating margin for my inner voice, my circumstances have less influence on my general demeanor. I haven’t perfected this state, but I am certain it will be second nature the longer I pursue this less-than lifestyle.

Recently, I actually made a list of things which I consider self-care. When I’m feeling overwhelmed or anxious, I choose an item, or two or three, and indulge in some self-care. I’m even incorporating self-care as part of my morning and evening routines. Creating self-care habits is high on my priority list this summer.

Some of my practices include:

  • Reading (who didn’t see that one?)
  • Browsing at the library
  • Taking care of my succulent garden
  • Meditating
  • Running
  • Snuggling the dogs
  • Drawing
  • Sitting outside, breathing deeply and doing nothing else
  • Burning candles
  • Yogi Tea
  • Journaling

As you can see, nothing is complicated or expensive. For a free practice, self-care may be as effective as a year of therapy was a few years ago. If nothing else, I like myself a whole lot more than I did six months ago. And I care a lot less about situations I cannot change or control as well.

What ways do you engage in self-care? How can you create margin to do them more often?


How to get it done (aka sanity for shopping days)

If you showed up for wisdom today, it’s not happening. I spent the morning at Wal-mart, friends. Wal-mart. I only go to Walmart about once every other month because I loathe it so. The sheer volume of consumerism, the crowded aisles, the checkout nightmares, the entire shopping experience is absolutely exhausting. But my daughters had needs and gift cards, and we live in a town with 3 stores…we hit two of them. So off we went because sometimes you just do the thing.

I have a history of being a terrible procrastinator. I can let a thing go for a ridiculous amount of time simply by walking right by it and pretending it doesn’t exist. Or I use busyness. I know what’s urgent, but shouldn’t I fold the laundry instead? Or water the plants? No really, I can have the cleanest bathroom in the world and still be scrambling to meet a deadline.

But lately I’ve imposed some rules on myself.

If a thing can be done in 3 minutes or less, I do it right now. The moment I think of it (unless I am meditating, then I pin it to my mental cork board. What? It works.)

If a thing can be done in under fifteen minutes, it goes on the daily post it. The daily post it helps me keep track of things without having to rely on my questionable memory. It lives in my planner. I don’t have to finish everything on the daily post it every day. By writing it down, my chances of finishing it in the next 48 hours increase draamtically.

If a thing will take longer than 15 minutes it goes in the future tasks list in my planner. I use this list when I find myself with a bit of extra time that I won’t use for reading or when I make my…

Daily top three list in my planner. I am a big fan of bullet journal, but for my birthday I received this amazing planner. It doesn’t quite have the freedom of a bullet journal, but it pleases my inner perfectionist so. It’s been an easy shift, and I do love it. Also, each day comes with a little Top Three checklist. And well… my little soul loves nothing more than checking a thing off. Nothing.

None of these things make a shopping day more pleasant for me. It’s just not something I love to do. But all of them work together teaching me that sometimes though only way to get through a thing is to just jump in and do it. Even though it wasn’t the case today, usually the mental anguish of procrastinating is far worse than the actual experience.

Giving myself permission: How to break free from dogmatism

Did you know that perfectionists love dogmatic thinking? We do. Well, I do; it might be dogma to say that about every single one of us. When we work within a system, it’s very important for us to know the rules and abide by them – perfectly. We need rule which are constant and true. If we cannot measure or lives by a set of infallible, incontrovertible truths, we do not have a plumb line set our perfection against. Certainty matters when we don’t have permission to make mistakes or, even worse, fail and fall apart.

Growing up, I was exposed to many forms of dogma: religious, relationship, and educational. Most of my learning, formal and experiential, reflected the following equation: X+Y=Z, always.
Education + work ethic = financial success
Believe the right things + baptism = eternal success
Constant availability + self-sacrifice = relational success
Conform to norms + firm us/them boundaries = cultural success
Go to church + Serve selflessly = religious success

In every new experience and social setting, I searched for the rules to follow so I could be the best at everything. I sought acceptance, approval and popularity by making myself the best fit in any given situation. Failure was not an option. Intelligent, hard working people can do anything they set their minds too. Throw in a little Philippians 4:13 and no one has an excuse for coming up short in any expectations, our own or someone else’s.

These concepts made the framework for my world view for a long time. Until one day, they buckled, broke and collapsed. Reconstructing my world view has been an extended effort in erasing all the equations that made sense of my world and making room for new ones.

Perhaps, this sounds simple; for others maybe it is. I have only my own experience to draw on. Rewriting the mental narratives, the ones which help me be always right and never wrong, is difficult at best. Some days it’s outright terrifying. Finally, I’ve found a key that opens most doors when my mind locks up.

I give myself permission.

Ridiculous, right? How does a person in their mid-forties not know how to give themselves permission to disagree, to refuse, to fail or fall or make a big, sprawling mess? How do I not know it’s fun to explore, deviate and even completely diverge from a common practice or belief set? If  you know the answer to this question, will you share it with me, please?

Granting self-permission opens doors for me I never imagined opening before. Many weeks, I attend an episcopal service on Saturday night. I love the repetition of liturgy and the open-ended questions posed in the homily. Every day, I meditate. I use words like ‘zen’ and ‘mystic’. Sometimes I speak to the universe at large and I don’t end with the word “amen.”

I have permission, now, to quit something in the middle if it isn’t working for me. At last, I can acknowledge the end of a season instead of trying to beat life back into it, regardless of how badly it limps. I listen to my gut, write letters from my intuition in my journal, use colors to describe the state of my soul. When I’m tired, I take naps, even if the to-do list doesn’t get finished.

The crazy thing about giving myself permission, is the ability to write my own equations:

Doodle + silly music = calm. Except occasionally, it doesn’t. Then try something else. Keep trying, or read a book. Whatever you feel like.

Open-minded questions + experience = healing. Sometimes, I still get hurt. It’s hard to know when that might happen. Remember to be brave.

Self-care + saying no = peace of mind. But say yes too, when you know what you want. Yes is good. Until it crowds out your soul. Then say no. Listen to your intuition to tell you when. There’s no scale.

What I’m unlearning most is that rules aren’t always safe and freedom isn’t always scary.  Rules may guide me, but they may also stunt me. Freedom may result in disaster, but it may also teach me to fly. The only way to know any of this is to try and fail and fall and try again.

If you fall down seven times, get up eight times, or eight, or seven times seventy. There’s really no limit.


Looking for a quiet space to read: 100 story summer

This weekend is the culmination of a month of planning and pushing through. As in all busy weeks, reading didn’t make it to the priority list. I read in the gaps, in the moments before succumbing to sleep, or while waiting in the car. But I can see the June, the month of no, shining on the horizon. Today we celebrate our wonderful middle girl Bailey for working hard and completing high school as well as her first year of college. Next week can be about reading again. This week the story is all about our girl.

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

I am a firm believer that sometimes, we have to try a book on more than one occasion to determine if it’s really not a good fit. Sometimes the book is fine, it’s us who isn’t ready or open or a good fit yet. Beautiful Ruins is a book which proves this point, at least for me. It’s been about five years since I tried to read this.  I was lured in the first time by the gorgeous cover. Although, I don’t remember why specifically I finally put it down; I was a good way into the book when I did. I do remember feeling unable to connect with the characters and that the story was disjointed.

Fortunately, this book came around again thanks to my postal book club. Because I was accountable to read it, I was determined to try it again. And whoa nelly! am I ever glad I did. I absolutely LOVED this story the second time around. The setting is lush and isolated, the characters quirky, broken, searching, flawed and beautiful (well, mostly beautiful, some characters are simple distasteful no matter what.). Making brilliant use of shifting time lines and POVs, a mystery, of sorts, unfolds. All along the way, each narrator searches for love and belonging in their own way.

I am delighted to have the chance to change my opinion on this amazing book. I highly recommend it to all.

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve picked this book up only to return it to the library unread, through no fault of the book itself. The hype surrounding the story kept bringing me back, and finally, I picked it up and finished it all in one sitting. I’m not sure what I expected, but what I got was a quiet rumination on family, relationships and ghosts from our past. The story is different than I imagined, very understated and vague. It hints and peeks around corners rather than blatantly revealing harsh details. It quietly forgives even when we aren’t sure what is being forgiven.

This book is a perfect quiet afternoon read. It doesn’t hurry or make you turn pages quickly to see what’s next. It is thoughtful and complex and deserves undivided attention so no layers get missed. I’m looking forward to the companion book, Anything is Possible which releases this summer (and may already be available).


How to wake up and find inspiration

Remember the journaling class I signed up for with my birthday money? Even though it’s only been four days, I’m having a great time learning, shifting my perspective and rediscovering inspiration. In fact, today’s lesson was to write about things which inspire and how to create more opportunities to experience those things. As I wrote, I realized I haven’t bothered with inspiration much recently. When you live in survival mode, there’s not much room for inspiration.

Survival mode isn’t always something we consciously choose. It certainly may be if we receive a terrible diagnosis or when a loved one faces a crisis. Birth and death and transitions can all be times when we focus simply on getting through the day intact. This is appropriate, but hopefully temporary. Sometimes, however, survival mode is crafty. It rises slowly around us if we’re mired in toxic relationships and unhealthy thought patterns, or when our environment suffocates rather than enriches us. Before we know it, we’re drowning. All we can do is keep our head above the water, sometimes not even that.

Perhaps we suffer from trauma. Forgetting there’s any other way to live, we keep our heads down. We strive to meet all the “shoulds” and exceed all the expectations.

I’ve been living this way, and failing miserably on all three accounts.

I don’t know what or why I began to wake up from this perspective. Although, I’m certain it began slowly.  Just as we can’t be certain what moment dark becomes dawn, we only know suddenly we can see again. At least, that’s what waking up to inspiration is for me. Maybe it was a series of unimportant choices each one leading to the next, like stepping stones back to myself. Perhaps, my spirit simply couldn’t sleep any longer. Awake at last, she nudged and prodded, slowly bringing me back to life.

If I had specific answers, I could write a 5-step program and be a millionaire.

I only know day-by-day, I find inspiration in the most unexpected places.  From a community of journalers, to a podcast, to conversation with a friend in recovery, every place I turn confirms the path I’m traveling is the one to life and light and beauty. It will eventually lead me home to myself.

I’m alert now, awake to promise and possibility. I’m searching and seeking, trying and failing, forgetting to care about what anyone else thinks.  When I journaled today I wrote about new experiences, exploring, learning, finding my voice again and using it. I wrote about reaching out and meeting new people. Traveling. Moving. Changing. Beginning again.

For most of us, it isn’t that inspiration is so hard to find, it’s that we are so focused on how to get through what’s next that we simply miss it. Most of us, just like me, don’t even know we’re living this way. I don’t know what inspires you to create.  I can only determine what inspires me. But I also hope, if you need a wake up call yourself, you might take a few minutes and think about, or write down the answers to a few questions:

  1. What inspires me?
  2. How can I develop opportunities for inspiration?
  3. How can I have more adventure?
  4. What do I want to do next?

    The crazy thing about this writing, reading, being vulnerable adventure I’m on is how much fun I’m having even when I’m afraid. Every day holds something new, even the hard days. I’ll hang on to this being awake feeling with everything I have. The time for sleeping is over. Inspiration is waiting to be discovered, here, there, everywhere I go.

How four “unimportant” choices changed my life

Today the Hunky and I went to a nearby monastery. The moment I walk on the grounds, a sense of overwhelming peace comes over me. It’s the perfect place to pause, linger and dive into deep thoughts. I spent my portion of the day thinking, journaling and reading, but first, I took a walk on the Rockdale River Trail. Since I wasn’t equipped for a true hike today, I only traveled a couple miles. Taking only myself and my thoughts, I spent some time considering how small choices sometimes change the entire trajectory of your life.

I’m not talking about momentous occasions: which college to attend, whether or not to have surgery, where to move type decisions. I mean the odd occurrence when we blithely choose to do something, giving it barely a thought, and afterwards nothing is ever the same. Crazy life shifting moments where you have to wonder if fate or design reached in and flipped a switch in your brain, leading you to the right course for your life. I like to think I have control over many things, but moments like these, I wonder if I’m really only along for the ride.

The time I said yes to a “we have no better offer” Valentine’s Day date.

It’s true. My husband and my first date was because neither one of us had a better offer. We’d been friends for a bit. Both recently ending relationships which weren’t really serious anyway, but still left us dateless on an important date night. However, once we’d decided to just hang out with each other, it was all over. Valentine’s Day ended up being crazy romantic. I walked around with a big goofy grin on my face everywhere (still do, most of the time). And within weeks, we knew this was the actual big L.  I barely gave the choice a thought the day I made it, and it is to date, the single most important, and best, decision I ever made.

The time I read Fast, Food Nation because it “sounded kind of interesting”

Let me be honest here. I never ate a single vegetable growing up. I hated them. Hate. And if my mom made me eat things I hated I would literally vomit everywhere. Probably on purpose, though it sure felt involuntary at the time. Even once I got older, my veggie palate was pretty spare. But reading Fast Food Nation was so horrifying (and really only the tip of the iceberg for what I’ve since learned about mass production of food, especially meat) that even before I finished it, I knew meat and I were through. Over the last twelve years my palate has vastly expanded, and changed. I still don’t eat meat, a decision which has opened my eyes to so many concepts I now practice.

The time I blogged for thirty days on “organization”

This one probably had a bit more consideration behind it then the first two choices, but what’s funny about it is the place I began, is not at all close to the place I finished. I planned writing about getting organized, managing my stuff and my schedule. I wanted to find a way to have it all and still have room for more. What I found instead is minimalism. At some point on that thirty day journey, I fell into the minimalism rabbit hole. I haven’t found my way out yet. I discovered that not only do I not need it all, I don’t even want it. Not the square feet, not the stuff, not the clothes, none of it.  I even minimized my books (that one hurt a little).

The time I fostered a puppy “for a week”

I still think I could successfully foster a pup. What I cannot do is take in a dog, have it become deathly ill, sleep with it on the couch for fear it will die in the night, have it’s departure delayed due to illness for six weeks and then hand over the dog I have grown to love. We took in Moses, a tiny, scrawny, wormy puppy with no intent of keeping him at all. But life happened, as it does. By the time Mo recovered from parvo, I couldn’t imagine our house without him. Since then he’s brought laughter and joy and daily squishes. He’s my best guy.

There’s plenty of other decisions I’ve made over my lifetime. Some big, most not terribly consequential. Some of them have changed my life at least as much as these four things, but in those instances, I felt the weight before making them. I understood their import and power to change things completely. These four decisions were throw-away choices at best. Still, I can’t imagine who I would be without having made them. Life is funny like that sometimes.

The week I Read Everything: 100 Story Summer

This week I joined in the Bout of Books readathon. It was also my birthday week, although I had plenty to accomplish, I allowed myself a great deal of leeway for reading. It was my gift to myself. As you can see, I read a rather ridiculous amount, and I’ll likely finish another book today. This week I read incredible books that range across the spectrum of style, content and story-line. It’s been a truly great adventure and only whetted my appetite for reading. However, by the end of the week, I missed my non-fiction reading too. So my reading will be a bit more balanced in the weeks to come, and a bit less as I tend to read non-fiction more slowly.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Years ago I read Hosseini’s Kite Runner, which was beautiful and horrible all at the same time. I want to say I loved the story, except I didn’t always love the story. I was often repulsed by the events and yet the story unfolds with such tenderness and unexpected beauty that I loved it all the same. A Thousand Splendid Suns reproduces the same magic a second time.

Miriam and Laila are born a generation apart, but their lives become cruelly intertwined in the war torn streets of Kabul, Afghanistan. Spanning decades of history, from the cruel regime of the 60’s and 70’s to the despot warlords of the 80’s and early 90’s, these two unlikely heroines embody what it means to love, lose, survive, and even hope in an oppressive and militaristic society. By the end of the novel, I was barely breathing. I had to remind myself to slow down and read all the words in an effort to discover what happened next. Harrowing and haunting, this is a story of feminism and friendship where such things should not be. It’s beautiful and wonderful, and I am the better for having experienced this book.

You can expect to see a review of Hosseini’s third book, And the Mountains Echoed very soon.

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler

After reading A Thousand Splendid Suns, I needed to step away and read something completely different, something with a guaranteed happy ending. Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler is a retelling of Shakespeare’s classic, Taming of the Shrew.  It’s not typical of Tyler’s style or story-lines, but it is exactly what I needed after being emotionally ruined by my previous book.

Including a fake marriage to extend green card status, PETA saving laboratory mice, a sharply, brilliant preschool teacher, this story ultimately realizes family should be a launching pad, not a lifelong behavior template.

I might not have enjoyed this story as much if I were looking for more nuanced Tyler, but when I needed a light-hearted, familiar love story, this book delivered.

Lincoln in the Bardo – by George Saunders

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I put this book on hold based on a podcast recommendation. Whatever I expected, this book wasn’t it. In fact, I can’t think of another book I’ve read constructed quite like this one. Snippets of news, press releases, diaries, memoirs, internal dialogue, ghosts, vice, heaven and hell, death, grief, and redemption all rolled up together in an extraordinary way.

Based on the death of Willie Lincoln, President Lincoln’s son, of typhoid fever during the early days of the Civil War, the study of Lincoln’s grief is deeply moving. But it’s not the only story being told here. The residents of the Bardo, a Buddhist concept of the space between death and rebirth into a new life, also have stories to tell and truths to reveal. Understanding the things which hold us to this earth, regret, unfinished work, inability to let go, greed, avarice, lust and making peace with our identity are also important themes in this story.

As much as I loved this book  (the more I reflect, the more I realize how complex and wonderful it is), it is one I will recommend only occasionally. It’s not easily accessible nor meant for reading quickly without attention to constantly changing details. But, for the reader who is willing to invest time and attention, it’s an exquisitely wrought exploration of humanity and eternity.

Half Broke Horses by Jeanette Walls

Many, many years ago, I read and loved Jeanette’s memoir, The Glass Castle. Even though it was harsh and terrible at times. It was also beautiful and hopeful. It’s a story of accepting where we’ve come from and our inability to change the people we love.

Half Broke Horses is not a memoir but a “true-life novel” of Jeanette’s grandmother, Lily. When Lily was fifteen years old, during WW1, she rode her horse 500 miles from Texas to Arizona to accept her first teaching position.


Lily is harsh, wild, crazy, intelligent, beautiful and a stark realist. From teaching hard-scrabble western children to selling bootleg liquor out her backdoor during prohibition, her determination and intelligence inspire me.  Her audacity makes me want to stand in a chair and cheer. I love the Wild West anyway, and reading the story of this true pioneer woman is the most fun I’ve had this month.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Last year I read the book, One in a Million Boy. Since then, I recommend it to everyone who will listen and people who aren’t so interested too. Its understated beauty and simplicity are perfect. A Man Called Ove is the first I’ve read since to capture that feeling of simple, beautiful goodness.

Ove’s story is one of loss and grief, how when we’re broken, love mends us. It’s about community, and family, and being angry at the world, about losing and finding home again without ever leaving the living room.  I laughed, aloud, which I don’t do frequently with books. I cried aloud, too.  Even when it’s predictable, it’s OK because the predictability is so right, setting things exactly as they should be. I’ll read this again and again for how it’s beauty touches my soul as a very good book should do.

Do the Next Thing: Finding Intentional Focus

Yesterday was a lovely, lazy birthday.  There was just enough gelato and I didn’t have to do dishes. Throw in the hammock and a really great book and you have what is for me the perfect day.  I’m grateful for a day to be entirely me in with no other demands or expectations. But if there are too many days like that, I drift. I become aimless and irritable. A day off is wonderful, even more so with coconut gelato, but what I’ve discovered over the past six months is too long without intentional focus I lose myself.

Today, I’m thinking about writing. It’s been a hit or miss scattering of subjects these last thirty-six days. Even if I don’t know what I’m going to say when I sit down, I know I’m going to say something. Sometimes when you start a thing, you aren’t sure what it will turn into. You only know you have to start, to begin a thing instead of continuing to intend a thing as you may have done for weeks or months, or in my case years. Intention is fine, but it’s not doing.

And it’s been good, the doing. Even when I’m uncertain and insecure. Even when I procrastinate and resist. Or find myself taking my own name in vain at 4:30 in the afternoon when I’m trying to put together coherent sentences and paragraphs. It’s good discipline. Every day words flow a bit more smoothly and clarity is easier to find. I’m not making the same mistakes I made last week.  These small, daily improvements make the effort worth it. And you, you crazy, beautiful people who keep coming back every day, even days when it seems to me I’ve not left much worth your effort.

But that’s the funny thing about sharing and community isn’t it? Sometimes we’re just sharing ourselves, offering things up with no plan or purpose, hoping someone will find them worthy or helpful, or at the very least interesting.  And they do. We find people who share things that stick, to us, to them, to each other. We go around collecting sticky things, like hermit crabs adding treasures to their backs as the traverse the sea floor.

Sticky is good. It means we’re going places, finding things and people, defining and redefining ourselves as we go. But if we aren’t careful, sticky can become cluttered. We suddenly realize we’ve tried to collect every shiny thing and while all of them are beautiful, it’s likely most of them are just that much baggage, all glamor and no purpose.  Glamor can be a heavy load to carry, and maybe we keep dropping things, maybe some important things, as we try to keep all our treasure contained within our tenuous grasp.

We may be able to gather all the shiny things, but we won’t be able to carry them, at least, not for long.

When I started writing almost forty days ago, I was running around grabbing all the sticky things. Seeing how they looked when I carried them. Hoping they or I or you would stick when I pulled them out to show them off. It’s working. But sometimes it feels clunky and cluttered. The scope is too wide, the story a bit forced.

In November, I received my word for the year, eigenzeit (eye-gun-zite).  Eigenzeit means to own your time. It’s a bit like seize the day, but more relaxed. It’s fine to seize the day, but if it’s not the right time for seizing, for instance, if it’s a lovely, lazy birthday sort of day where seizing is the last thing on your mind, then eigenzeit says, “Oh yes! Forget seizing! Choose lazing. Laze the day, today. Because it’s the perfect day today for that. Seizing would be entirely inappropriate on a day like today.”

Eigenzeit knows there is a time and a season to every purpose under heaven, but it also knows you can’t grow tomatoes in January. At least, not under normal conditions. It knows some days are perfect for a book in a hammock all day long, and some days are for thinking about what’s next. It’s fine to write about anything and everything for awhile, but there is also a time to focus and hone in. To take a plan and let it evolve into something more intentional. To stop picking up all the shiny bits everywhere, and start cultivating only the ones with my name on them, the ones which fit in the empty spaces.

For more than six months, I’ve been reading and thinking and creating habits promoting being intentional, on owning my time. Eigenzeit. Maybe it’s time to translate all that intention into something purposeful, like words and paragraphs and pages. When I look at all the pieces of my life, I find the ribbon connecting them all is embroidered with the word “intentional”in shining, silver thread, over and under and wrapping around everything.

Focused and Intentional. That’s the kind of life I want. It’s the kind of writing I want to share, the character of the person I want to be. Here’s to the next thing.