Sanity for Breakfast, with a side of freedom.

This morning I met a friend for breakfast and coffee. She is often busy during the summer months, so it’s been a few weeks since I last saw her. As we shared about family and events and, as always, books we’ve been reading, I told her how I have no real plans or responsibilities until September. I swear her jaw hit the table.

Really? She asked, What in the world do you do?

I responded, Honestly? Whatever I want.

I wish I knew what words to use to convey how incredibly free I felt in that moment. I do what I want.

For many reasons, I developed a co-dependent personality in my formative years. Like any other pattern of behavior, once you learn to react a certain way, until you recognize and relearn new behaviors, that is the way you always react. Once I learned codependency, it didn’t matter if the relationship was healthy or unhealthy, I saw it through a co-dependent lens.

Although my co-dependency didn’t stem from abuse, it knew exactly how to react to it, which means for years I have danced to the tune of things will get better when you act better. I lost myself in this dance, literally. When everything is about the image you project, you forget what is real and what is merely imaginary. I lost myself, my preferences, my opinions, my desires…my identity. I don’t say this bitterly, nor do I blame one person or thing. Things happened to me; I reacted. This is life.

Fortunately for me, I reached an IHHE (I-have-had-enough) moment two years ago. I couldn’t diagnose the issue then, but I knew I needed help. I might not have sought out that help had I known the depth and extent of reconstruction required to learn sanity. But now that I am on the other side I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.

I saw a picture earlier this week:

sanity
I’ve never heard anything truer than this. I have felt absolutely crazy time and again over these last years. I’ve cried and yelled and thrown things. It is gut-wrenching, soul-shaking work learning to be sane, don’t ever let anyone tell you something different.

But oh. Oh, this morning I looked at my friend and told her I do what I want, whatever form that takes. That moment was freedom. Freedom from caring what other people think or expect or demand. That moment was sanity. To know who I am, what I like, what I want, after so many years of trying to measure myself by everyone else’s standard is like taking a deep, quenching drink from clean, clear water after years of sucking tepid, rinse water from a sponge.

This creative Sabbath, this window of unbroken time, is like a capstone course after two years of hard work, study, and unending support. This is where I begin to use all the skills I’ve worked so hard to master. This is me owning my life again.

All I needed was a cup of coffee to make everything clear.

The state of home (or I have no idea what to say today)

The air-conditioning is out in my van – again. I’m sad about it, mostly because it’s fairly hellish outside. Although, it does give me a great reason to not go anywhere at all. We all know how much I love staying at home.

This week, in a fit of energy conservation and frustration at my inability to stay within the grocery budget, I unplugged the second fridge. Hunky keeps asking me, “Why are we doing this again?” And I’m not sure how to explain that it feels like an act of resistance and a stab at control.  I may still have rage issues.

One of my progeny (I’m not allowed to say which, publicly lest her application isn’t selected) is applying to an international mission trip in the spring. I’m excited and jealous. She’s stepping out of her comfort zone to do this and I applaud her for it.

However, I either need to win the lottery or start making money blogging or get a real job. If I apply to Chic-fil-A my daughter can be my boss. Also, I will starve to death. (Chicken isn’t vegetarian).

This morning I fed eleven cats. ELEVEN CATS. As much as I like the quiet of summer when all the college students are away, I need school to start again so I’m not the only person in the neighborhood caring for these semi-feral critters. All commentary on my decision to feed these cats will be ignored. I don’t kill spiders – do you really think I’m letting kittens starve? No.

Family vacation coming soon. I am ready ready ready. The ocean is calling. I’m collecting books and making grocery lists and trying not to be anxious about leaving the dogs for ten days. As I write this Mo has draped himself across all my pillows staring at me with lovelorn eyes. Perhaps it’s ridiculous but our love is real. I miss them when we leave home.

Today relationships are on my mind. How I do better with a few, close friendships than a vast sprawling network. About the power of small kindnesses and the interconnectedness of sharing the day-to-day mundane over the span of years. I started to write about that today, but it’s not ready yet. I need to let it marinate a little longer.

I’m terribly behind on book reviews which is a shame as I’ve read some really great stuff lately. Since I don’t plan to leave home this week without A/C, maybe I’ll get a chance to finish them at last. I can’t make it rich as a professional reader while being a book review slacker now can I?

Thus is the state of my head, heart, and home this Friday. Summer rolls along and takes me with it, just as it always has.

 

How pimento cheese and chicken salad can save our souls

Last night I met with some good friends at a local sandwich shop. We discussed a fabulous book over pimento cheese, or chicken and egg salads. We also discussed British television, under-reacting, how children survive to adulthood, pre-reading, parental angst and Chuck E. Jesus. We did not talk about news, politics, rage (well, other than parental rage), or anything else of national or international import. Basically, it was delightful. At one point I thought to myself, these are the moments that save our souls.

I’ve been thinking about important minutia lately. Oh how we love the grand, sweeping gesture. We accept the mantra, “go big or go home.” But most of us don’t have the energy, knowledge or support to go big, so we just go home, where we feel powerless to add anything of value to a floundering world.

Here is where we miss an important truth: it’s the little changes, usually begun right at home, that begin sweeping momentum shifts. It’s not about making the biggest splash when we cannonball into the pool. We simply start where we are with what we have.

We live in a culture of hero worship. Even the church has “heroes of the faith” we love to rally behind. We believe we aren’t smart enough or good enough or experienced enough to do something for ourselves. So we wait, and we wait for someone else to start something we can get behind. And by get behind I mean make a facebook post about it and hope people like it enough times to affirm our position.

But last night, as we encouraged each other, admitted our secret fears and confessed our secrets (My children had no formal educational instruction until they were 8-ish years old, and now they all go to college. How about that?), I realized how empowering it is to be seen…heard…known and finally, accepted. Such a small thing which makes such a huge difference.

Instead of marking the things which divide us, instead we joined together for a bit on the things which make us human, a trait every one of us shares. These shared little things are the ones which save our souls, not the giant political systems or the moral majority. The way we change the world is by connecting with each other in small ways, across systems and religions and ethnicity. When we meet in the connecting spaces, we create the momentum that tilts the world towards love, acceptance and equality.

Yesterday I shared about feeling rage, impotent, helpless rage. But today I woke empowered – to feel more, to hear more, to connect more. You probably won’t hear about it in the news. It probably will receive very little attention at all. But I will know. If I can shift the moment to love those closest to me, then perhaps they will shift theirs as well. Each of us shifting a bit at a time towards love, mercy, grace and justice eventually we’ll create a tidal wave so huge, it covers the whole earth, washing us clean.

This and That on Saturday: ideas, projects and books

On Writing

Yesterday as I blogged, I realized it’s becoming difficult to come up with new content every day. Apparently, seventy days worth of words is all I have without some sort of break in between. I’m not giving up on the one-hundred days project, not at all, but I am feeling more challenged. This is actually a good thing. It means I am looking for new things to say instead of rehashing old ideas forever. I feel like I’ve taken seventy-three cleansing breaths, and now I’m ready for anything.

I started a separate book review blog. You can click the link, or find it in the page menu. The Mo’Joy Reads page will direct you there. It’s a teeny, tiny, baby blog with just a few entries so far. But it’s making me immensely happy. It’s so clean, organized and lovely. I’m using categories and tags to help facilitate looking up subjects and genres. I’m toying with author tags too. I’m like Monica from Friends with her label maker. SO HAPPY. Feel free to check it out.

On Reading

Earlier today I was commiserating with a friend who is reading too many books. I have too many on-going myself right now, even after trying to carefully curate my consumption. (I get alliteration points for that sentence, right?) I started reading on Netgalley and went a little crazy with book requests. So I’m hammering through some advanced reader copies and trying to wrap up a few loose end books. I’m still having a great time reading all sorts of new things for the 100 Story Summer. I’ve picked up so many books I might never have otherwise. In fact, be looking for a review today of The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf which may end up being one of my favorite books of the year. SO GOOD!

For years, I’ve felt a bit guilty about giving in entirely to my desire to read like a maniac at every spare moment. But this little side-project of mine has actually proven not only fun, but a huge productivity boost. Instead of getting fewer things done because of my reading, I’m doing and enjoying a lot more. I think I’m just not wasting time like I used to. This is an unexpected and delightful side-effect.

On the Month-of-No

The landscape of summer has shifted a bit since May when I got the idea for a month of no. It has actually opened up a bit more, relieving me of a few more responsibilities for a nice little window. I’m going to keep refining my schedule and saying more no than yes this summer. In fact, if it’s not a hell yes, it’s a resounding no . I like myself a lot more since starting this little plan. Although it can’t go on forever, this little window seems tailor made for me to take advantage of it and listen. Since I’m learning to trust my gut more and my guilt less, I’m going with it.

On Running

In January I set a little goal to lose 36 inches. I can’t use a scale because I obsess over numbers and climb on the awful device no less than twenty-seven times a day to see if I’ve fluctuated an ounce. It’s ridiculous, and not very healthy for me. We don’t actually own a scale. But for whatever reason, I can healthfully engage with a tape measure.

Anyway, since January I’ve been walking, and then walk/running, and now, I’m a runner again. I’ve had an on-again-off-again, mostly off-again, relationship with running since the half marathon almost two years ago. In fact, I’m beginning to toy a tiny little bit with doing another one. NEXT YEAR. Part of my crash and burn was training too fast and too hard for the last one and then a really difficult experience with heat and humidity actually forcing the route to close for marathoners.

This month has me clocking some of the longest distances I’ve run since before half marathon training (remember the giant toe blisters? and the terrible fall? I was a beat up girl). I remember, now, why I loved running to begin with and what a healing practice it is for me. The continued shrinking is nice too. I’m a little bit ahead of pace to meet my measurement goal by the end of the year.

So here we are. Caught up on the little things that matter so much to me, but seem difficult to work into a blog. Happy weekend to us all. I hope you find a good book to read, a quiet place to rest and someone you love to share it all with!

 

Love: How I make sense of the world in violent times

Sundays tend to make me thinkful. Often I experience a sort of dissonance between the way I once understood God, and the way I understand God now. Much has changed for me over the last few years, a widening and deepening. I read something this morning that I love:

We must therefore, never underestimate our power to wrong about God, when imagining God –whether in prose or in poetry. – Brian MacLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy

I have been wrong, no doubt about many things I am still wrong. But over the last few years I’ve learned that when God strips everything else away, Love remains. The Spirit of God is love, and it does not change or fail or fall away. When Christ hung on the cross, it was not to appease the wrath of God. We already understood gods as wrathful and bloodthirsty and have for thousands of years. Instead, Christ came to reveal the true nature of God. Even when humanity seeks to put God to death, He loves. He forgives.

This is not the image of God I learned from my childhood. While this concept is not a new revelation, it is a new revelation to me. It is a facet of God I had not yet considered, but now that I have, it has entirely changed how I see the world and the people in it.

But it is a slow reconciliation.

Perhaps the most difficult thing to reconcile is the concept of original blessing. The congregations I have taken part with have always emphasized sin. We are born in sin. We live in sin. Mankind lost to Original sin. This sin is almost, always personal in nature: lies, swearing, greed…you probably know the list. But, there is a reality before Genesis 3. Somehow we forget this, or we’ve simply never considered it this way.

Before there was sin, there was blessing. We were created in communion and for communion. Even before His death, Jesus showed us there is still communion with God. He washed the disciples feet and He broke bread with them. This is the very face of God revealed in a way humanity had seldom imagined.

No other god has ever revealed themselves in this way.

Yet somehow we still miss it. We let our focus settle on our imperfections (for me, those are many) rather than on the One who dwells first with us and then in us. We are not repulsive to God. Not a disappointment; not an abomination. Every single person who has ever lived and ever will live was created by love and in love. Every one.

Created by Love and in love. Created to love.

For so long I missed this. As I understood it, I was born in sin and redeemed to correct and save others. The strength of my belief was under-girded by how many people around me understood God the same way. Numbers meant power and power meant the ability to shape the world in our image.

But I do not need to save the world. The position of Savior is more than adequately filled. He declared His work finished, enough. Furthermore, I do not need to fix the world, since Love is already doing the restoration work. I can even let go of judging the world, God has judged it already and found it very good (He hasn’t changed His mind on this revelation either). My one and only job is to love the world. Love the world and it’s people, it’s features and cultures and forests and fields. Love with my words and my ways and my life.

I’ve come to believe the world doesn’t have a sin problem. If Jesus died once and for all, then sin only has power where there is not love. No, the world suffers from a Love problem. When we worship systems and power instead of God, the world suffers. Placing ourselves, our agendas, our desires above our neighbor, the world suffers. We create division between people groups and ideologies. We always belong to the good guys, and they always belong to the bad guys. And the world suffers.

But we have received a revelation that life doesn’t have to be this way. These systems and powers and principalities are shadows but we can bring the light. That light is Love. It looks different from the rule books, different from systematic theology, breaking down barriers religion has erected. It’s messy and unpredictable, and it’s breaking through. Here and now, all around  us.

We love because we are already loved. We have been since the dawn of time.

Kingdom come.
On earth as it is in Heaven.
For God so loves the world. This world.
He is love, and in Him, we are love.

 

Though I speak all the languages of earth and of angels, if I didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing.  If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

 

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.

 

New spiritual pathways: Breaking free from dogmatism part 2

Yesterday I shared about giving myself permission to explore new ways of exploring and understanding the world and my place in it. As I wrote, I felt both excitement and trepidation. This spiritual path I’m traveling is exciting. I’ve anxiously peered down the way for so long, afraid to move forward lest I get lost. I’m finally walking, making my way forward, slowly. I’ve found surprising and pleasing companions along the way. It’s an adventure for sure, but I also still feel rather fragile and vulnerable about this journey, so I’ve been keeping it close and safe.

One of the hardest things about traveling a new way is the condemnation received from those who aren’t traveling with you. I’ve traveled long in religious circles, and, let’s be honest, religious circles can be more condemning than most. I’ve felt the hard edge of condemnation. It hurts every time, maybe the effect is cumulative. Or maybe my co-dependency plays a part. Probably both. Either way, in giving myself permission to freely share the spiritual part of my journey, I open myself to criticism and condemnation yet again. After all, it’s only ok to think heretical thoughts if you keep them to yourself.

In almost sixty days of writing, I’ve managed to avoid writing almost anything spiritual. I’ve touched on it, circled around it’s edges. Mostly, I keep those observations and wonderings to myself, though. Two decades in ministry have taught me well that Jesus forgives, but systems seldom do.

I’m afraid. That’s the long and short of this post. I’m afraid to be honest, afraid of the repercussions, of rejection, of condemnation. But I know I can’t continue to dance around the edges of something which is so deeply part of who I am. I’m a spiritual being. Although I’ve asked at least ten thousand questions these last few years, not one of them has been whether God loves me still. When no one else makes room for all my wonderings and wanderings, she does. In fact, the farther down this path I travel, the bigger and more beautiful God becomes.

The evolution of my faith looks something like a set of Russian nesting dolls. I began in the smallest possible construct, and every few years, my spiritual understanding emerges into a new and larger form. The thing about Russian dolls is that although each gets a little bigger, on the outside they look identical. Imagine my surprise when I emerged from my last evolution and found an entirely new image looking back at me. The God I knew turned out to be a graven image, looking more like my own heart than the actual heart of God. In fact, this new revelation is far more beautiful, broad and all-embracing than anything I’d dared imagined. She’s far less equation and far more mystery than I’d been taught to be comfortable with.

But oh, it’s exciting, awakening in this wide open space. Every way I turn, new images of a living God unfold before me, each one exposing more and still more of the wild and furious heart of God. I can no longer continue sharing about this journey without sharing this part of myself as well.

So yes, I’m afraid, afraid and excited and uncertain and joyful. I’m learning a new way of living which is an entirely different sort of new than simply changing geographic location. The restlessness I cannot shake is my soul longing to sing, if not without fear, at least without disguise.

Here’s my soul exposed, open, vulnerable, happy, anticipating what’s next. This beautiful spiritual pathway unwinds before me, cleared and made welcoming by those who have traveled before.

Monsters in the closet: Scary things I’m doing right now.

It was a dark and stormy day. No, really, it actually is a dark and rainy day, but that’s not scary. I love this sort of weather, quiet, meditative, peaceful. It’s the perfect day to think about plans and dreams, for puttering around, reorganizing the dresser and cabinets. The perfect sort of day for examining the monsters hiding in my closet, and maybe chase them away for good.

Scary monster #1: Writing every day

When I decided to do this one hundred day writing thing, it scared me. I stink at follow-through. I’m constantly distracted by shiny, new, exciting!!! Not to mention being terribly out of practice with writing. Also not to mention when I go public with my thoughts and feelings, it tends to come back and bite me in the…well, you know.  It hasn’t been a good experience. While I can’t control how people react to my online conversations, I can control whether or not I let those people scare me. I can control whose voice I listen to or whether I want to listen at all. If I show up and you show up, we can face scary things together. Monsters, and mean people, aren’t nearly so frightening in the light, I’m finding.

Scary Monster #2: Speaking up in public

As an introvert, I’d much rather handle all my communication in writing, after thinking about it for a a few days. But over the last year, I’ve been in a teaching/leading situation where more and more often, I find myself telling personal, vulnerable stories to an audience. The first time, I thought I might hyperventilate or throw up, or both. Even though I’d written a manuscript and practiced, practiced, practiced, it was scary. Yesterday I shared that acceptance is my drug of choice, but when you share the messy parts of yourself, rejection is always a risk. Fortunately my audience was grace-filled and understanding. They even laughed at my jokes. Some of the monsters in our closets are boggarts, they disappear when we laugh at them.

Scary Monster #3: Saying no to toxic people

Fortunately for me, I’m co-teaching a class right now which uses the book Boundaries as part of the curriculum. It’s my second time reading it, and it’s possible I’m learning even more this time. (Seriously there isn’t a single person who can’t benefit from this book. It’s amazing.) I’m learning to make peace with the fact that some people are simply bad for me, whether intentionally or unintentional. I’m stepping away from guilt, manipulation, control, and boundary tramplers. People may be upset or angry. They may react badly. My big, bad fear is a level of rejection like we faced years ago when we were excommunicated. I realize it isn’t likely, but it’s what I know. It’s all I know. Stepping away from that fear to do what is necessary for my own well-being is facing one huge closet monster.

Scary Monster #4: Being Myself

Listen, I love Jesus, but I struggle with church. That’s not news. However, church is my husband’s occupation, so this struggle is in my face daily. I’ve carried hurts and collected scars for a decade now. I’ve absorbed the message that I’m dangerous, subversive, not good enough, and that I need to sit down and be quiet all the way into my bones.

But no more. Just no more. Measuring every thought, word and opinion in case it makes someone uncomfortable is an activity I’m quitting. I’m done accepting I need to change, conform or contort my position in order to fit into a cultural construct I’m not even sure I like anymore. My deconstruction has been leading me back to the me I used to be before I got so bound up in all the rules and false constructs of who a “church person/pastor’s wife/ proverbs 31 woman” should be.  I am myself, and the flaws or changes I make are between me and the Spirit who dwells within me. I like the me I’d forgotten how to be. It’s nice being in her skin again.

 

 

 

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.

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.