The Power of Showing Up (even on days you’d rather not)

Eighteen years ago, I stopped working to stay home with my children. At the time, I had an almost one year old and a new born and working simply to break even with day care seemed ridiculous. Of course, when child number three came on the scene seventeen months later, I was locked-in with stay-at-home parenting. As the girls got older, we made the decision to home school. And that’s my life in a nut shell for the last twenty years. Sure, tons of other things happened, but when I look back over it what stands out is showing up to raise and educate my ladies. All day, every day for a very long time. It’s been a worthy couple decades for sure.

I say all that to share this, I’m no stranger to the occasional tedium of simply showing up. For me it was the daily routine of young children and then the daily routine of school. Day after day, week after week… Maybe for you it’s something different, but we all have seasons where it seems like showing up is all we do and nothing ever changes.

I feel like that today sitting down to write more words. Yes, more words. I am not sure how many words I’ve tapped out over the last ninety-two days. 50,000? 75,000? Many, many words. I show up and I sit down and I tap, tap, tap. But days like today it seems like a whole lot of effort for very little result. Truthfully, speaking, I’d rather be watching Gilmore Girls.

But here I am, showing up again.  Same effort, new endeavor.

It’s not easy the little mundane things we all have to do every day. It’s easy to believe we’re the only ones caught up in the mundane repetition of what it takes to build a life, a family, a career, a legacy. Everyone on social media is posting the highlight reel; television and Hollywood constantly promote the dream of miraculous discovery followed by instant fame and fortune. Meanwhile, I’m doing good if I have on clean shorts and a clean shirt on the same day.

Can I get an amen?

We’ve packed a thousand lunches, washed ten thousand plates and matched (or shoved in a drawer) at least a million socks. I can fold a fitted sheet neatly in under forty seconds, but there’s not an audience for  that on America’s Got Talent. I’d throw in the towel, but I’d just be the one that has to pick it up again.

Sometimes it just seems like we ought to have moved on to something more important, more glamorous, more rewarding by now, am I right?

I may not have fame and fortune to show for these weeks turned decades of showing up, faithfully, day after day. But I have gained a little bit of insight now that I’ve finally stuck around long enough to look back. What I realize now is there is great power and deep beauty hidden within the bland facade of the day-to-day grind.  I see it in the forms and faces of my children, near grown.

Oh, I say, breathlessly, when catch them in the corner of my eye. Oh, there is a masterpiece. I didn’t see it until just now.

Even though those moments are fleeting, the weight of them adds magnitude to my soul. This is the moment, even if no one else sees it, this is the one.

But we have to be watching, waiting, expectant, because for most of us, glimpses and glimmers of glory are all the fame we are destined to receive. We have to open to receiving the unexpected holy moment right in the middle of scraping the egg pan and punching the time card and tap, tap, tapping the words on the screen.

We have to be ready, and we make ourselves ready by showing up. By doing the next thing. By not checking out even though binge watching Gilmore Girls sounds so much more appealing. (Even if you sometimes binge watch Gilmore Girls instead of showing up, it’s ok. Show up tomorrow. )

There’s power in showing up. There’s depth and beauty and hope and encouragement in the midst of those who don’t lose sight of what matters in search of something more exciting and renowned. These little things, the mundane, loving, self-sacrificial things can shape a home, a neighborhood, a city, a culture…the world.

If we just keep showing up, we can do anything.

 

 

I’m grounded: choosing good tools to stay rooted in reality

Two-thirds of my progeny are currently away from home. Aside from double the dog duty when this happens, I also find myself with large, quiet swaths of unoccupied time. I never have much trouble entertaining myself (INFJ), but I have to be careful not to go too far into my head for too long. Discontent is an easy road to travel when my head insists I should be able to create an ideal existence. Unfortunately, very little in this world lives up to the kingdoms I create in my head.  I am a much happier person when I stay a little more grounded.

There are many ways I reground myself when I’m feeling cut-off and adrift, when my body and my reality are the last place I want to be. Meditation, exercise and working with growing things all pull me out of my head space and into my body space. A good wrestle with one of the pups anchors me in the physical present by engaging all my senses, including my sense of fun. But I get the most bang for my grounding buck when I’m doing some good, old-fashioned house work.

If you spend much time at all talking to me, the conversation will roll around to minimalism. I’m a die-hard.  But it wasn’t until recently that I realized how often I use minimalism to plant myself in a healthier reality. The act of evaluation forces me out of what should be, to what is right in front me.

Let’s face it; life gets messy. Relationships require work. Cars break down. College demands tuition. People get sick. There’s literally no end to the list of things which can send us spiraling off into the Land of Should.

This should be easier.
I should have handled that better.
They should know how I feel.
Should Should Should Should.

I constantly take the mental train to Shouldtown, shoulding on myself the whole journey.

That’s the head space I’m talking about, the idealism in which I am so easily trapped. Reality can never compare to all the ways I am certain things should be. Because of my personality, I can camp out for weeks in Should Town, wallowing in my discontent and disdain for the way things are.

Understanding what tools pull me out of that space and back to reality is an important part of my recovery. When I use them to get grounded, I can break out of that funky head space and see reality clearly. Dreams and aspirations are necessary components of happiness, but idealistic perfectionism is the enemy of emotional health.

This week, when I’m not reveling in a book, you’ll find me cleaning closets and sorting the storage area. I’m making meal plans and writing book reviews. I’m touching and working and feeling and sorting, all ways to push my emotional roots further into the soil of my precious reality. If I let myself stay in my head, I miss so much that is beautiful and wondrous right in front of me, already resting in my hands, just waiting for me to notice.

There are so many things I enjoy about my personality. But like everything else in this world, I have strengths and weaknesses. The more I learn about myself, the easier it becomes to pull myself back from unhealthy thought and behavior patterns. I am more than the result of what has happened to me in this world, I’m also what I choose to make from the things I cannot control. When I’m grounded, I can see past what “should” be to what can be, and what steps I can take to facilitate the possibility.

 

Life in the margin: facing myself in the empty spaces

It may be harder than I thought, this month of No. I hadn’t realized how much I was using responsibility and activity to numb some of my more unmanageable feelings.  It’s easy to pretend things aren’t upsetting when you have to manage six errands in ninety minutes, or you expect forty friends and family to inhabit your yard and home for a weekend. When it’s a day to party and celebrate, it’s easy to say, I’ll think about this tomorrow. It’s harder to create margin and then meet yourself there. Which is precisely what I’ve done.

I’ve spent the entire morning prowling my house like a cranky lioness, unable to settle, not playing nicely with others. I’m rumpled and judgemental. My inner critic points fingers and levels accusations about them and those and the other.

I readily admit, I can be a difficult person to love. Just ask Hunky.

I can accept the fact that I am a prickly specimen until I’m feeling more secure. But I can’t accept my own inability or unwillingness to extend the kind of open mindedness I expect from everyone else. Guilty. Double, triple, quadruple guilty.

Obviously, I’m quite capable of putting on my own blinders in this world, narrowing my vision to a tiny tunnel of acceptability. Creating margin seems like such a lovely concept until you scrape all the distractions of the surface, and find your own undistorted image looking back at you.

I’ve already considered the possibility that thirty days may not be nearly long enough to embrace this paradox of working to make the world better while simultaneously loving it exactly as it is. Or maybe that’s the easy part. The world is a large and nebulous concept, easy to blur into an image more pleasing. It’s individuals and systems where I truly struggle.

So what do we do when we find the world unlovely and the people in it unlovable?

For me it means digging deeper to unearth the things I cannot love about myself. Usually those things closely reflect what I condemn in others. It means embracing the paradox that I can work to be a better me while loving myself entirely as I am in this moment.

It also means a lot less news and news commentary to pollute my mind with rage and accusation.

Time to step back even farther and stare my FOMO right in the face. And then kiss her between the eyes and welcome her into all the other idiosyncrasies who inhabit my soul. There’s probably a seat right next to the perfectionist. No one likes her very much.

I can accept that not every day of this margin space is going to be a zen paradise where I perform yoga while rescuing stray kittens and give world changing soliloquies on the true nature of love. It may be more about embracing the urge to pack boxes while not acting on it and resigning myself to finishing one more Georgia summer. (I’m sorry, but you cannot make me love that, though I may learn to surrender to it gracefully…maybe.) It may mean being inhabited by inner peace and roving restlessness all at once. Loving both sides of my personality the same rather than calling one “good” and the other “bad.”

This non-judgemental, non-dual path I’m traveling seems like it shouldn’t be so hard, but it’s actually the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Mostly because I am my own worst enemy. I sabotage my efforts left and right with my temper, idealism and sky-high expectations. This self-work in the margin isn’t for the faint of heart. But I know when I’m more practiced in loving the person I am, the easier it will be to love others as they are too.

 

How to prepare for a Month-of-No without guilt

I had plans for writing today. I even have a mental script and a written framework. However, when you can’t drive for four days, the next day will fill quickly with all the things you couldn’t do the previous days.  It’s been a bit hectic. Since Saturday, I’ve worked on a list of things to be done before the ‘Month-of-No’ which begins tomorrow (or tonight at sundown if you’re speaking sabbath). I’m just about ready now, but my words are few. So instead:

How I prepare for the Month-of-No
  1. Decide now what and who gets my yes. Make sure the list is short.
    My family, Craig and the girls, are my first line of yes.  I will pick Olivia up from her friend’s birthday party and handle most work transportation for Bailey.  I’ll also make sure we have groceries each week. But no, I’m not dropping everything for last minute plans, or ill-planning. The last two months were packed, packed, packed and I have juggled, juggled, juggled. I want us all to enjoy ourselves. Since no one likes being home as much as I do, I will occasionally have to venture out. But only with fair warning.
  2. Don’t apologize for self-care. Yes, it is nice to be able to take this time. Yes, I understand this option won’t work for everyone. I do realize how lucky I am.  This is the way life goes sometimes. I have margin at the exact time my soul really needs it. Only a fool looks at that gift and ignores it.
  3.  Make a plan to accommodate my limits. Probably one-third of my running around is due to lack of planning on my part. Over the last few days I wrote out a menu plan and a master grocery list. Honestly, I’m over making dinner. But I also am one of two people in the house who isn’t employed, so dinner is on me. Fortunately this month has girls and husband gone for weeks at a time, and I’m simple. A few groceries go a long way. Beyond that, there is not one thing I need that won’t wait until later.
  4. Have a ridiculous number of books on hand. I currently have 18 books out from the library with another 9 on hold. (The library is on the yes list for the month of no.) I’ve actually set myself up with several projects and plans -with tools already on hand – for the entire month. I don’t want to spend it watching seasons of netflix or scrolling through social media. Even though I enjoy those things, more often, I use them as numbing tools. I want to spend this month aware and engaged.

My family has observed a weekly Sabbath for many years. That observance has taught me rest doesn’t come without preparing for it. There is a front load of responsibility to handle before I step out of sync for a bit. Fortunately for me this year I have a rare window. Many of my responsibilities are winding down for the summer. No children are taking classes or doing activities, and as I already mentioned, parts of my family will be gone at least a week this month. So, I made a choice to do what I need to do, which is rest, relax and restore.

When I went to therapy a few years ago, my therapist gave me a great gift. She told me to take an entire year off of everything. She recognized what my traumatized soul most needed. Quiet. Margin. Room to breathe. Room to dream. She was right. But it’s been couple years since I did that, and the last season was packed. Even good things- so many good things- wear you down over time.

One last thing to remember for the month-of-no is this:

5. Practice Gratitude. Every day, friends. Even the ones filled with yes in the months to come.

What if I didn’t? Permission to say no to expectations

This post originally appeared on the Middle Places blog in March, 2015.

Lately I’ve been shedding expectations faster than most people are shedding winter clothes in the watery March sunshine.  A week or so ago, my therapist tossed the word “sabbatical” into the room the same way someone might throw a bouquet of roses at a dancer after a grand performance or a life preserver at a drowning person. Maybe I’m a drowning performer who needs a flowery rescue.  Either way, I snatched it out of the air and tucked it greedily into the pocket of my mind, turning it over and over, rubbing it, worrying it, smoothing it away with thought fingers.

I thought to myself, “All these expectations are swirling around me: some real, some imagined, some belong to other people and I don’t even know if I am failing or exceeding all around town without so much as a second thought.  But what if…well, what if I just didn’t? What if instead of failing, meeting or exceeding, I just started being? What’s the worst thing that could happen?

I envisioned 3 scenarios:
1.) Some people would be very disappointed, and maybe even a little upset.
2.) Some people would be a little jealous of my new-found freedom.
But mostly
3.) Many would not even notice because the reality is most people don’t think of me often enough to have expectations.

We do ourselves more than a disservice when we allow what other people may think of us to weigh too heavily in our lives. In fact, I think we’re making ourselves a little crazy with all the measuring up, comparing, worrying and wondering. We’re robbing ourselves of both sleep and peace.  What if we gave ourselves permission to drop out of the rat race, to meander by the side of the road and collect daisies?

I’m not so naive to think we can spend the rest of our days in a hermitage on a tropical island (oh, don’t I wish that I could?), or that we can binge watch Netflix while eating cheetos until we become one with the sofa, but most of us have been caught in the same patterns of worrying and beating ourselves up for so long we’ve ceased living out our purpose all the same. What if we tried living differently?

I’m calling “Ally Ally in Free” which literally translates from the German phrase “alle alle auch sind frei” or “everyone is  also free.”  We are all free – me and you- free from the expectations, mostly unstated,  we have for other people, but most of all,  free from the weight of all the expectations I believe are placed upon me. For the next ten months, I’m only letting a few, wise, genuinely-invested-in-my-best-interest people have a voice in my life. I’m saying no, backing down. I need to relearn who I am when I’m not putting on a performance for anyone else.

Meanwhile, I’ll read books, and growing succulents, and write, and think, and serve within my calling, not because I feel compelled to fill a spot.  The real me will say her real thoughts, and feel her real feelings. Some people aren’t going to like it, but unfortunately I  left my concern in my other pants.

It’s time for Ally Ally in free, friends. Return safely home. We’ll lay in the grass and count clouds for awhile, but only if you want to. No expectations.

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.

 

The gift of Here and Now: learning to be in the present

This window of time right here is the calm before the storm. As I type grandparents are flying and driving, brides are having their hair and nails done, wheels are turning for the wedding we will attend and which Hunky officiates this evening and for Bailey’s graduation party tomorrow. But right now, right in this moment, I’m not part of any of that. I’m simply here.

This week I’ve written about perfectionism and slow, often invisible change. In a culture addicted to the quick fix, we constantly look ahead. While true change, soul deep change takes time. Often more time than we are willing to give before moving on to the next shiny quick-fix. I know I’m guilty. I’ll probably be guilty again in the future, but in this moment, I can actually trace long winding ribbons of behavior evolving over time, bringing me to this point right here.

I keep mentioning this moment because here, now I feel calm, content and hopeful, despite all that is happening around me. My inner voice isn’t leaping about telling me all the things I must do to prepare for this evening and tomorrow. My perfectionist isn’t nagging me about things forgotten or left out. Instead, just over the top of my computer screen I see tiny, new arms growing on my cactus. Squirrels are racing around the tree outside my window while one of the cats waits hopefully on the ground. My candle burns. And I am right where I am meant to be, doing the only thing that matters in this moment.

Learning to be in the moment has not been something that comes easily. My mind prefers to be busy planning, analyzing, perfecting. Like so many people, pausing often means staring at a screen waiting for the next ‘ping’ of dopamine when I see a piece of news drop or a comment from someone who normally sits at the cool-kids table. I’m as susceptible as anyone to zone in and tune out. For years, I’ve been altering behaviors in an attempt to focus my awareness on what’s happening here and now.

Most days I don’t think I’ve made any progress at all.  But today tells me change, although slow, is happening. It tells me there’s plenty of time for good enough.  It’s put on it’s last lovely show of spring just so I will sit and simply be. Be here. Now.

Occasionally, I make the mistake of hanging on to this feeling too tightly. As soon as I do, judgement and justification step in and take over. This moment is a gift. I can’t make it stay, nor can I control the next moment coming up. It might not be as beautiful or calm. It might, actually, be the worst moment of my life. To date, I’ve never seen one of those moments coming or been able to avoid them. I can tell you already, I won’t be able to maintain this sense of calm through the entire weekend.

But I can be in this one. Now. Breathing in and out. Listening to the bluebird who sits right outside my open window. I can accept that imperfection and frustration are as likely to make an appearance later as joy and laughter, though I’d rather have only the latter.  I can feel grateful for the creative space to sit right here and share these shining minutes, which are only now, not a promise for all time.

Here.
Now.
Exactly where and who I’m meant to be.

 

Routine Magic: how good mornings can change everything

Because life is for trying new things, today, I’m on board with doing something different. It’s a crazy sort of day with many places to go, errands to run, people to slow down and really listen to and in between those things, my own goals and responsibilities to handle. Today writing is important, but it didn’t make the top of the list. So today, I set the timer and when it rings, it’s time to move on. Good-bye perfectionism; Hello good enough. I’d like to share a bit about my morning routine.

Creating a working morning routine has been one of my goals for a ridiculously long time. I have no idea why I couldn’t just hammer one out and stick with it. Maybe it’s my self-discipline, or maybe it’s that the time wasn’t right in my soul. I really do believe in the old (cliche?) adage that when the student is ready, the teacher will always appear. It’s happened to me too many times to discount. So whether it’s finding self-discipline or timing, I’m finally settling into something that works for me.

My morning routine begins every night before I go to bed, I make a priority list and daily schedule in my semi-bullet journal (linked in this post). I clean off my writing table and place a full glass of water on it. That water is the premiere figure in my morning routine.

A few months ago, I stopped keeping electronics by my bed. As soon as my nature-sounds digital alarm wakes me up, I reach for my water and drink it down. I’ve read research that says this is the best way to start your day and research that says it doesn’t really make any difference, but what I know is, it makes me feel better. I wake up thirsty, and sitting quietly in my bed taking a few moments to take care of me and only me, sets a good tone for my morning.

Then I spend around ten minutes meditating. I’m doing guided meditations right now. (My monkey brain is off the chain. until that becomes a bit more focused, I need a guiding voice). More immediate self-care. It’s like I’m a princess.

Now the sun is making an appearance so I hit the street for a run. I’ve not been a very committed runner for well over a year. For now I’m not measuring, timing, pacing or setting goals. I’m out the door and I run, going wherever I want. I walk when I’m tired, which is a lot. Sometimes, I listen to podcasts; other times it’s birds singing. College is out for the summer so the streets are mostly quiet and the sidewalks mostly empty. I’m not racing anything, just being in the moment. It’s good.

When I arrive home, it’s time for my morning Mo. We wrestle, play ball, eat breakfast and take a walk. Mo is especially fond of mornings because he gets up early and the other dog sleeps late. For a few hours every day, he’s an only dog with the run of the house and all the attention. He likes it like that.

This week I started what will likely be the final piece of my morning routine into place, daily journaling. I invested some birthday money in myself and signed up for a journaling course. True, it’s journaling. Do I really need a course? Maybe not. Maybe I just need a kick in the pants, some accountability and reason to sit down and write yet again. “I paid for this, now I will do it”, mentality. Whatever, it’s working.

May has been a very busy, very demanding, very creative month, all in very good ways. Sometimes I do feel overwhelmed but usually, these four habits, and the behavior patterns they are creating have kept me fairly anxiety free all month. They aren’t a magic potion by any stretch, but they are working magic in my life. Sometimes it takes awhile to get the chemistry just right, but when you do, it really is worth the effort it takes to get there.

And there’s my timer.

What morning practices help you each day?

Becoming: How I’m rediscovering anticipation

The week long celebration of all the good things in my life has ended, which is a good thing. If every day were a celebration, then soon enough, no days would be. There is a season…and all that jazz.  As much as I love a good lay around and indulge myself day, Eventually, I want my routine. I thrive on anticipation of what’s next, but only so long as I know what it is. Surprise is not my strong suit, at least, not the complicating kind. Boring or not, I adjust slowly, and irritably, to sudden change. In this, as in so many things, I can either fight against my personality or embrace it. I’ve decided to finally, after too many years of beating myself up for who I am.

I’ve considered these upcoming summer months for a few weeks now. May races by like a dervish, throwing parties, graduations and program endings near daily. Previous summers we’ve done a form of “school light,” but this year, different in nearly every way, we won’t. School’s out for summer – at least, at the end of the week it is. School’s out, programs are ended, life will slow and still, requiring little of me, a speed I very much enjoy.

It’s easy, I’ve discovered, to lose myself in busyness and distraction. I can do it even when life is slow and still, perhaps even better than when too many things are clamoring for my attention. This summer I’m creating intentional habits and routines to prevent this slide into disarray. I may not have much I have to do, but I often don’t anticipate well by creating space for the things I want to do. Instead I fall into distraction. I invent ways to elude self-awareness and focus. Self-awareness can be discomforting when you focus on internal disruption, and I tend to avoid discomfort when I can.

However, self-care keeps jumping up and slapping me in the face. After years of being responsible for the raising of young humans, I’m graduating too.  My decades of hands-on, day in and day out parenting were the most beautiful, crazy and fulfilling ones yet. To be given the gift of presence in my own children’s lives has been the defining characteristic of mine. But time moves on, and the definition is changing. Although it feels sudden, it’s truly not. It’s merely the thing we’ve been moving towards for the last twenty years.

Still, I plan to allow myself the grace to adjust slowly to whatever the new definition is. I’m not certain myself, yet which is terribly unsettling. This summer I will embrace the discomfort and the adventure of self-awareness, listening to who I am and what I want.  The years ahead will be fundamentally different than the ones before, and I must be different in them, or flounder and despair.

One day last week, I came to a sobering realization. I can’t remember the last time I felt excitement for whatever happens next. Part of that feeling is depression talking, a voice which is receding now, another part is learned helplessness, the rest is my resistance to acknowledge a life change. It’s time to evaluate everything, even myself, especially myself, in light of this entirely new season.  I can’t continue to wear my winter clothes and expect to be anything but ill-suited to this emerging spring. Not only do I realize this now, I feel excited, at last, about the possibility of it all. I anticipate becoming me again.

Summer is coming and I am becoming in it. This is a scary and wonderful thing.

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.